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Lawmakers talk gun control and mental health

Gun control and mental health are big topics at community forum following Wednesday's school shooting

Posted: Feb 16, 2018 8:00 PM

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa - State Senator Amanda Ragan (D-Mason City) and Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake) were in Clear Lake Friday morning for their monthly community forum.

While topics such as water quality, taxes and education were discussed, the biggest issues that were brought up were gun control and mental health reform.

Speaker Upmeyer is not in favor of changing current gun laws in the state, but is pressing for more action towards the state's mental health system. This comes after Wednesday's school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead and more than a dozen injured.

"This is such a tragedy. And every single time, we're seeing that there were signs and signals, and we need to make sure there's a system set up so we can respond and react to those better, and to intervene," Upmeyer says.

Senator Ragan is also in favor of strengthening mental health help, but says there needs to be adequate funding available.

"Whether it's private funding or public funding or insurance funding, we need to make sure those services are there so people won't fall through the cracks," Ragan says.

In December, the Iowa Department of Human Services released an 18-page report listing recommendations to fix the system and close any coverage gaps. Some of these include constructing six new centrally located access centers statewide, double the number of Assertive Community Teams (ACTs) by next year, establish intensive residential service homes that can house no less than 120 people, develop a full array of crisis response services, and implement tertiary care psychiatric hospitals, among others. The latter is in stark contrast to two years ago, when the state closed mental health institutions in Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda due to what then-Governor Terry Branstad considered 'an outdated way' of providing care and claimed private agencies can deliver the same services more efficiently.

In terms of school security, earlier this session, Senate File 2253 was introduced to require all school districts, by June 2019, to have some form of a safety plan in the event of an active shooter situation or natural disaster, but was advanced on Thursday after the shooting.

Senator Ragan is a supporter of the measure, and believes that this can go a long way to prevent similar incidents.

"Right now, we only have 80% of schools that do that, and we want to make sure that it is one of the things that's addressed. Because right now, I'm sure every educator is thinking about 'what do I do if something happens in my classroom or what happens in my school," Ragan says.

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