SUNDAY TALK: Guth on Education Funding, Vaccines, and Religious Freedom

We began floor debate in the Senate this week, passing the education funding package for K-12. This package includes new money for schools and adds to the funds we assigned to transport students. Our goal was to get education funding passed as quickly as possible so schools can use a firm number in their budgets.

I like the fact that some of the funding was designated for transportation in districts that have above average costs/pupils. In this rural district, almost all schools will get transportation funds. In total, we will be giving an additional $89 million dollars to Iowa schools. When you look at all forms of taxation, the citizens of Iowa invest about $14,600 per student every year. I think that represents a strong commitment to training the next generation to grow and succeed.

Much of our work this week was in subcommittee, where we look at various ideas to make government work better. Some bills fly through, some fail, and some need more study. The process is a great way to gather information and get input from citizens.

One thing that I have become more interested in while in the Senate is the safety of our vaccines. When I was a kid in the 1950s and 60s, there were three vaccines on the recommended schedule. Today, the number is 72 doses altogether. In 1986, the federal government was concerned that liability for injury would discourage the development of new vaccines. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act set up a reporting system to track adverse events resulting from vaccination for the compensation of families suffering from those injuries. This kept pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals safe from liability suits. Since its inception in 1986, the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) has led to $4 billion being paid out for deaths or injuries from vaccinations. Last year, 341 adverse events were reported in Iowa.

Unfortunately, it has been shown that adverse events are vastly under reported. This is especially unfortunate because there has never been a safety study on the 72 dose recommended schedule. Low reporting rates make it difficult to identify “problem” drugs and vaccines that endanger public health.

One of the bills I filed is a bill I presented last year, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The First Amendment in the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” However, in 1990 the U. S. Supreme Court began to diminish those freedoms. Congress responded by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. Later, the U. S. Supreme Court said RFRA applies only to federal law. Since that time, 21 states have passed a state version of RFRA. I believe it is time for Iowa to join those states to protect the right of “free exercise” of religion unless there is a compelling government interest to interfere (such as safety).

I believe that government should not interfere with a citizen’s right to live and work according to their own beliefs. If we are not free to live according to our beliefs, we aren’t truly free, are we? Benjamin Franklin said it well, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom— and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”

It’s a privilege to serve you. Feel free to call or email me with comments or concerns. Forums will be March 1 at Estherville at the Community Room in the Regional Wellness Center at 9:30 AM, and March 8 in Hancock County, places and times to be announced.