Legislators, citizens exchange ideas at cracker-barrel meeting

Legislators, citizens exchange ideas at cracker-barrel meeting District 17 Sen. Joe Reedy, Vermillion, and District 17 Rep. H. Junior Engbrecht, Marion, sift through pages of legislation pending in Pierre as they attempted to answer a constituent's question during Saturday's cracker-barrel meeting at the Vermillion Library. Rep. Judy Clark was unable to attend. Her car struck an icy patch of road and slid into a ditch as she attempted to drive from Pierre to Vermillion early Saturday. by David Lias District 17 Sen. Joe Reedy, Vermillion, and District 17 Rep. H. Junior Engbrecht, Marion, carefully listened to the concerns of one of their constituents at Saturday morning's legislative cracker-barrel meeting, held in the Vermillion Public Library.

"We're going to watch that bill real closely," Reedy told the audience member.

"I'll be on the phone with you," the constituent replied.

"And she will call you," Engbrecht said, drawing laughter from the capacity crowd in the library meeting room. "And I have no problem with that."

In a homespun brand of democracy in action, Reedy and Engbrecht heard from the people who are the most important to them � the voters who elected them to office.

They listened as Mayor Bill Radigan asked that lawmakers not forget cities when they consider highway funding, since, for example, the city of Vermillion is responsible for over 50 miles of streets and roads.

They took the phone numbers of constituents interested in particular issues, promising to get back to them once they learned answers to their questions from the proper authorities in Pierre.

Rep. Judy Clark of Vermillion would have been there, too, but a snowstorm delayed her journey from Pierre to Vermillion the night before.

She tried early Saturday morning to make the drive south from the state capital, hit a patch of ice, and skidded into a ditch.

But the meeting went on. Reedy and Engbrecht fielded questions on a variety of issues, including:

* Highway funding. Reedy said that under the latest proposal, no funds from a gas tax increase would be coming back to towns to help them with their streets and highways.

"That's true," Reedy said. "The governor said some years ago we made an agreement that the gas tax goes to the state, and the counties get all of the license tax money.

"The bill that left our house is a four cent increase in the gas tax which will go to the state," he added. "The counties will get an increase in the license plates, they will get a percentage of the trucking license plates, and also probably a 1 percent tax on new vehicles. Our goal originally was $15 million for the counties. They arrived at that figure because our personal property return tax would be $16 million. So we are trying to replace that."

The Senate bill that passed last Friday, if kept in its current form, would give about $20 million back to the counties in license plate fee increases and the state would receive all of the gas tax increase funds.

On the House side, a bill is being considered that would give a 3 percent license plate fee increase to counties.

"I think if that passes over there," Reedy said, "our task will be get together and meld those two together and come up with a plan. The counties need the money just as bad as the state does."

* Trucking "What are you going to do about those trucks that buy their gas in Iowa and drive over to Turner County and destroy our roads and get away from it?" an audience member asked.

Engbrecht said a bill has been passed that will allow highway patrol officers to check a trucker's tickets to see if his complying with load laws.

Reedy said he believes that many Highway Patrol cars in the state will soon be outfitted with portable scales that will allow officers to determine if truckers are hauling loads of legal weights.

"Gov. Janklow is going to get tough on overweight trucks," Reedy said. "They bought 14 new scales last year, and there are more coming. It's interesting that they were always blaming the farmers for being overloaded. They found out that the commercial trucker is generally in good shape, and farmers, at times, might be a little overloaded, but the construction companies themselves are the ones that are really damaging the roads."

* Special education. There was quite a debate on that the other day, and I got in on part of it," Reedy said, "where some schools are reporting a lot more special ed students than actually have, and they're putting them in as being severe that what they actually are. One of the bills is attempting to straighten that out and even out the playing field (among schools.) I'm sure that there's going to be more work on that."

One piece of special education legislation has been tabled, Engbrecht and Reedy noted, but they added that a second bill, which would allow school districts to transfer any leftover special education funds into the districts' general funds, was approved by the House.

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