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Gov. Kim Reynolds OKs study aimed at improving access for disabled to state parks

Gazette - 5/18/2024

May 16—POLK CITY — What do Iowa's 69 state parks need to make them more accessible to people with disabilities?

That question should be answered in a state report that is required under a new law signed Thursday by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during a public ceremony at Big Creek State Park near Polk City.

"It's hard to imagine a better way to experience the natural beauty Iowa has to offer than by making a trip to one of our many outstanding state parks," Reynolds said. "Every Iowan, regardless of physical ability, should have the opportunity to experience them firsthand."

The new law requires the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to research and develop recommendations to increase the accessibility for people with disabilities in Iowa's state parks.

A 2023 report by a former Iowa Department of Natural Resources official, prepared at the department's request, said most of Iowa's state parks have restrooms, shelters and cabins that are not handicapped accessible, and that the state parks system needs more than $100 million in repairs for fixing leaking roofs and rotting shelters and updating sewage lagoons.

Reynolds and state lawmakers began to address those issues by requiring the parks accessibility study and devoting some new resources to the state parks system.

While it falls well short of the $100 million prescribed in the DNR report, the coming year's state budget includes $1.3 million to improve accessibility at state parks and another $6 million for park infrastructure, maintenance and repairs.

The parks accessibility study bill also requires the DNR to prepare a new brochure and online site that advertises opportunities at Iowa parks for people with disabilities.

During Thursday's bill-signing ceremony, Reynolds noted Big Creek recently received a grant that enabled the park to buy a track chair — basically, an all-terrain wheelchair — that disabled Iowans will be able to use free of charge.

Jack Nelson, of Urbandale, demonstrated how the track chair can maneuver across the sidewalks, grass areas and beaches of a park.

"We want to provide facilities and experiences for everyone," Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon said at the event. "So going forward, we will continue talking and learning from our partners, and we'll continue to grow with this effort with more accessible facilities, better information on our website about accessible trails, bathrooms, fishing piers and other items, and hopefully things like this track chair that Jack is here to demonstrate for us."

The bill, House File 2364, passed both chambers of the Iowa Legislature unanimously. It is a version of legislation that was initially introduced by Iowa Rep. Adam Zabner, a Democrat from Iowa City.

It is rare for bills introduced by the minority party to become law when the majority party controls all levers of the state lawmaking process, as has been the case in Iowa since 2017.

"I've heard from so many Iowans about challenges finding outdoor opportunities that are accessible, that do exist, and then also hoping that we get more accessible opportunities," Zabner said at the ceremony. "I think you can see behind me that Iowa is such a beautiful state. And I know that access to the outdoors can be transformative this time of year. ... So (I'm) very, very excited that we were able to get this done."

How many bills remain unsigned?

The Iowa Legislature during its 2024 session approved 186 bills that were sent to Gov. Kim Reynolds' desk for her approval or veto.

As of early Thursday afternoon, action remained on 22 bills. She is scheduled to sign another into law Friday.

The governor has 30 days from the Legislature's final adjournment to decide on approved legislation, giving Reynolds until Sunday or Monday to make her final determination on the remaining bills.

Among the legislation that still requires gubernatorial action are bills that would regulate automated traffic cameras, reduce and streamline Iowa's state boards and commissions, and address the state's open meetings law.

Comments: (515) 355-1300, erin.murphy@thegazette.com

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