Sen. Mark Segebart (top), R-Vail, and Rep. Dan Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, answered questions at the Carroll Chamber of Commerce’s first legislative forum of the 2013 session.
Sen. Mark Segebart (top), R-Vail, and Rep. Dan Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, answered questions at the Carroll Chamber of Commerce’s first legislative forum of the 2013 session.
State Rep. Dan Muhlbauer's declaration that he stands firmly behind the U.S. Constitution's gun-rights amendment drew a strong challenge at the Carroll Chamber of Commerce's first legislative forum of the Legislature's 2013 session Saturday morning.

Muhlbauer continues to draw heat for comments he made in an interview with the Times Herald soon after the shooting massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December.

In that interview, Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, suggested strong gun-control measures, including possible confiscation of particularly high-powered weapons, and received nationwide media attention.

At Saturday's forum attended by about 40 people in the New Hope activities building, Muhlbauer and state Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, were asked about the progress of gun-confiscation bills in the Legislature.

Both said no such bills have been introduced in the Legislature, which went into session two weeks ago.

"I haven't seen any bills that would prevent semi-automatic weapons," Segebart said.

He added, "I don't think you're going to see any change in our gun laws here in Iowa, especially limiting shotguns and that sort of thing. But I do think we're going to address this through the mental-health system and figure out a way sheriffs are going to be able to identify the mental-health patients out there that we know about.

"Given that not in any of these disastrous crimes that have taken place was there a person who had a permit to carry a firearm who did it, you can do all that and not change the outcome at all."

Muhlbauer said he won't propose any gun controls and also mentioned "a bad interview that I did" with the Times Herald.

"I fully stand behind the Second Amendment," he said.

"I want to try to make this a safer district, a safer Iowa," Muhlbauer commented, "and I think we need to look at these things. And mental health, we need to fund it fully so that we can stop some of that stuff. Taking your guns? No. We're not interested in that at all. There will be no legislation ever to do that, to take away the Second Amendment."

Those remarks drew sharp questioning from Carroll County Republican Party chairman Craig Williams of Manning.

Williams pointed out Muhlbauer initially said in interviews and correspondence following the Times Herald article that the newspaper story was inaccurate and slanted. However, Williams said, the newspaper has made audio of the interview available online and the story was "very accurate."

"What are we supposed to believe," Williams said, "that you're pro-Second Amendment or not pro-Second Amendment."

Muhlbauer acknowledged he mishandled his response in the firestorm following the interview and also said in defense of his gun-rights position, "Go look at my voting record."

Muhlbauer did say he's glad to see gun and mental-health issues get attention at the federal-government level.

He said it's time for reasonable talk about guns, mental health and school security.

"It's time to sit down and rationally talk about this problem," he added.

Muhlbauer, who was elected to his second term in the Iowa House last November, and Segebart, who's succeeded Republican Steve Kettering of Lake View in the Senate, received an array of questions in the forum.

Asked what Iowa lawmakers could do to restore strong family structure, both said that's a challenge likely too big and complex for the Legislature to solve.

Segebart commented that moral values have changed, saying 3,500 abortions a day reportedly are being performed in the U.S.

Changing abortion laws and declaring that life begins at conception would be a start, he said.

He said of restoring personal responsibility, "It goes back to giving people the ability either to create their own business or work for a business, earn their own wage and decide where they're going to spend their own money - that sense of well-being that comes from that whole system. Almost half of our country, the 47 percent, are now looking to the government instead of themselves to provide for their needs.

"So the basics we were founded on are good sound things to do, and personal responsibility, owning property, all of those things, the right to security and defend yourself, all those rights that were God-given to us shouldn't be given to us by the government. They're here, they're ours. We need to stand up for those values."

On the state's financial health, Muhlbauer and Segebart noted Iowa has built an $800 million budget surplus - "Iowa is one of the top five healthiest states," said Muhlbauer - and pressure is now on to spend some of that money for different needs.

They said the state must be careful with spending any of the surplus. They favor one-time expenditures over ongoing commitments.

Vern Henkenius of Carroll urged the legislators to consider using some of the funds to fix the state's deteriorating roads and bridges.

"That's a possibility," Segebart said, adding that he attributes much of his success in last fall's election to his support of raising the state gas tax in order to generate funds for improving roads.

Segebart also indicated support for a tax refund.

He said, "I would support sending some of that (surplus) back to the taxpayers that sent it to us to begin with. It really is an overtax, and it would spur our local growth and help our local families, and in the end whatever we can do to grow our local economy and promote our local businesses is a good thing for all of us."

Muhlbauer and Segebart said some of the top issues in this year's session will be mental-health-service redesign, commercial-property-tax reduction and Gov. Terry Branstad's education-reform plan.

Carroll Community School District superintendent Rob Cordes said at the forum that Branstad is bullying the Legislature by trying to force it to act on education reform before deciding on the allowable-growth funding for the state's school districts.

Cordes added that because of declining enrollment in rural districts, he doesn't know how the state will be able to sustain the more than 350 public districts currently operating in Iowa.

Cordes said consideration of countywide high-school systems has been taboo because of desire to maintain local athletic programs. There's more concern about the team emblems on football helmets than there is about academics, he said.

On commercial-property-tax reform, Muhlbauer noted Branstad has pledged to make up to cities and counties funds they would lose while tax reduction is phased in. Estimated costs from the Legislative Service Agency, he said, are $74.2 million in 2015, $152.8 million in 2016, $339.2 million in 2017 and $400 million in 2018.

In addition to education, property tax and mental health, Muhlbauer said, another key issue this year will be Iowa's strategy for reducing runoff of nutrients into rivers.

"The (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) is telling the (Iowa Department of Natural Resources) that the Mississippi (River) is too polluted and we need to do more active things to protect our rivers," Muhlbauer said.

"We have to come up with a program that's economical and science-based and improve our water quality," he said.

New Hope executive director Rhonda Mart expressed concern to legislators about cuts in funding for sheltered work programs for people with disabilities.

Muhlbauer said the mental-health system has been "shortchanged far too long."

Segebart, who served on the Crawford County Board of Supervisors, said counties began cutting funding for work services when mental-health funding became strained.

"I know what good those dollars do for local providers," he said, adding, "I would be in favor of more workforce dollars."

The next forum will be from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at the American Legion hall in Arcadia.