Greetings from the Statehouse

By Michael Bergan

Deciding on how to vote on bills and amendments can be challenging. One commonly believed approach is to reflect the district’s public opinion on an issue and vote consistent with the polls.

Deciding on how to vote on bills and amendments can be challenging. One commonly believed approach is to reflect the district’s public opinion on an issue and vote consistent with the polls. A second may be to stand by beliefs and positions taken during the campaign. Both approaches play only a small part in my decision process, which is based on study and evaluation of the complex issues, to be an informed decision maker.
To follow local public opinion alone is to assume that everyone is well informed and understands what at times are complex issues. While many communications I receive are informed on issues of debate, the bill introduced is often amended in committee or during debate, with little opportunity for the public to learn of the changes and reform opinions. Issues can sometimes be parochial and unique to the district; those influences have to be weighed against statewide interests.
To follow through on a campaign stance works in generalities; I seldom vote on a bill that is even known during a campaign. Often bills are proposed on topics that were not discussed or even anticipated prior to the election. Bills filed are often amended during the process, changing their scope and relevance.
I typically start from a conservative position, asking: “Do we even need to make a change?” After all, our current law was achieved through the same process that is now contemplating a change. First, I speak with the individual proposing the bill and those groups registering for the bill to better understand the issues driving the change. I seek out those opposed to the bill to identify areas of conflict or agreement. Public opinion plays a role here in helping define the question and offering various perspectives from which to look at the issue. I appreciate communications with local resources that may be impacted by the legislation. While there may be two sides to an issue, I find there are often myriad points of view. My overall goal is to develop a firm grasp of the issue and work with colleagues to adopt language that better serves Iowans. Building consensus is ideal, with 85% to 90% of bills receiving bi-partisan support in the House.
A variation on this approach is used on issues that are dealt with over time. Our response to mental health is a good example. We address changes in mental health services annually as our understanding grows and past changes have been implemented. We learn from successes in other states, pilot projects and from studies that identify best practices. Funding limitations, or coordination of funding from local or federal levels influence the rate of change. Putting new programs or practices in place can take time; finding trained professionals, physical locations and client acceptance are all factors. Laws in these areas require adjustment over time to better serve Iowans.
SF 159 has reached the House. I want to share a few points about our Governor’s support for parent choice in education. The scope of the Student First Scholarship Program is targeted and narrow. It is available only for children in one of Iowa’s 34 lowest performing public schools. The scholarships would be awarded to families to spend on a variety of approved education expenses such as tuition, textbooks, etc. The Department of Management calculates the cost of the Student First Scholarship program at $1.1M to $2.7M and, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency (LSA), the program’s net cost is $200,000. 
There are a lot of different aspects to this bill that we will be discussing this session. The Governor’s bill is aimed at creating greater choice for parents in their children’s education so that no student is trapped in a situation that’s not what’s best for them. This is a priority she shares with Iowa House Republicans. It is also important to ensure that we are properly funding and supporting our public schools. Over the next few weeks, we will engage in many discussions on the best way to accomplish these goals to ensure that every Iowa student has access to the quality education they deserve.
I can be reached at my legislative email,

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