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Legislators Address Jobs, Nursing Shortage

By Staff | Feb 17, 2011

This is the final in a two-part story covering the town hall meeting held Feb. 12, in Emmetsburg with State Senator Jack Kibbie and State Representative John Wittneben.

Area residents filled the Iowa Welcome Center in Emmetsburg on Feb. 12, ready to discuss the latest hot button topics with local state legislators Senator Jack Kibbie and Representative John Wittneben. The pair addressed several issues during the morning with their constituents. Palo Alto County Farm Bureau and the Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce sponsored the meeting.

The Future of Jobs

“I feel my success in life has come from the education I received in this school system,” said Ted Ellis. “And my kids received the same education in this system. If you want the best you’ve got to pay the best. We want the best teachers and we want to pay them well so we can entice the best here. God bless you if you can make that happen.”

“We’re at a point in rural Iowa where we need to grow our own,” said Sen. Jack Kibbie.

Rep. John Wittneben, who grew up in Estherville, noted how Estherville used to be home to a John Morrell beef and pork packing plant, which offered good paying union jobs.

“John Morrell provided 650 jobs and Estherville had a population of 8,100. We had two shoe stores, three or four grocery stores, and more clothing stores than I can count,” shared Wittneben. “After John Morrell closed, our population went down to 6,200. Now we have no shoe stores and one clothing store. My point is we used to have good jobs and then the unions were crushed.”

Wittneben countered this with his experience in New Hampshire, where he said unions had too much power.

“It all comes back to balance and common sense. We have to find a way to get these jobs. We have to find a way to get management and labor to work together instead of against each other,” Wittneben surmised. “Some smaller companies like Hy-Vee and Jacobson-Westergard & Associates have profit sharing. The more money the company makes, the more money you got at the end of the year as a bonus or percentage of profits. I’d like to see more of that cooperation.”

Kibbie added, “How many jobs has Emmetsburg lost with losing Skyjack and SNC? We have to find a way to replace those jobs.”

Community Colleges

Kibbie stated that funding for community colleges is a big issue currently. He noted that, on average, Iowa students who receive an Iowa Tuition Grant (funded through tax dollars) are awarded $2,800 to attend a private college in Iowa. Those attending a community college are awarded $1,800.

“Two hundred dollars of that is property tax,” said Kibbie. “So, we’re $1,000 behind the private Iowa Tuition Grant program per student. There’s around 100,000 community college students statewide, so we’re about $100 million short.”

Wittneben added, “And a much higher percentage of those community college graduates are staying in Iowa than those who get the four-year degree, which is an added bonus.”

Renee Jedlicka, an instructor at Iowa Lakes Community College, was concerned about preschool and K-12 funding, as well as community college funding that may be lowered to 1990 levels.

“Preschool affects so many of our students,” said Jedlicka. “Many of them have small children.”

“Iowa has the most two income households in the nation,” said Kibbie. “That has an effect on families. It’s not just urban areas, but small towns here at home.”

Nursing Shortage

Jeremy Theesfeld, a registered nurse at Palo Alto County Hospital, addressed the upcoming nursing shortage.

“Registered nurses (RN) make up the largest segment of the healthcare workforce. The baby-boomers are aging and the nurses themselves are growing older-the average age of an RN is 47,” said Theesfeld. “The state is offering tuition reimbursement, but is that enough? In ten years they’re calling for quite a crunch.”

“The biggest issue for training nurses in Iowa is salary.” Kibbie said. “You have to have a master’s degree nurse to teach, but a master’s degree nurse can go work in an emergency room on a weekend and make more money than they can teaching.”

Kibbie noted that the financial aide issue would be addressed through the Education Appropriations Committee.

“Hopefully there will be more money there for financial assistance for new nurses as well as science and math teachers,” said Kibbie. “Those three are critical areas especially in rural Iowa.”

State Government

“There’s over 2,000 less state workers today than there was a year ago,” Kibbie noted. “There’s thousands less than in 2001. Some of these that took early retirement last year need to be hired back at half the cost. A big area is in the prison system.”

Kibbie related that often, on night shifts, there is just one prison guard per 200 to 300 inmates.

“Those are not safe conditions,” he added.

Kibbie mentioned the impact of the 2008 floods in eastern Iowa.

“The floods were the fourth largest natural disaster in the nation, ever,” said Kibbie. “It went from the Minnesota line to Keokuk. And we pumped a world of money into that. Well over $100 million went directly from the state to help those people.”

According to the senator, Hurricane Katrina caused less than half of the flood damage (in dollars) than Iowa’s floods caused.

Additional town hall meetings with Kibbie and Wittneben will be held Saturday, Mar. 12, and Saturday, Apr. 9, in Emmetsburg.

Contact your legislator:

State Senator Jack Kibbie, Iowa Senate, Iowa Statehouse, Des Moines, IA 50319; Senate office telephone 515-281-3371; John.Kibbie@legis.state.ia.us

Representative John Wittneben, Statehouse, Des Moines, IA 50319; office telephone: 515-281-3221; John.Wittneben@legis.state.ia.us