Higher education, human services take biggest hit in final Branstad budget cuts

Governor Terry Branstad’s budget director has finally revealed how $11.5 million in “miscellaneous” spending cuts will be spread around state government before the end of the current fiscal year on June 30. As expected, the ax will fall most heavily on higher education and human services–just like Branstad wanted all along.

Elected officials often bury bad news in a late Friday afternoon dump, but Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds went one step further to evade accountability: they didn’t even announce the cuts in a press release. Rather, at around 4:00 pm, Department of Management Director David Roederer relayed the news in a letter to the Iowa House chief clerk and the secretary of the Iowa Senate.

Iowa House and Senate Republicans have plausible deniability after calling for $11.5 million in unspecified “Department Operational Reductions” as part of Senate File 130, the “deappropriations” bill GOP lawmakers approved in late January. Let Roederer do the dirty work.

After the jump I’ve posted the document showing how much the latest cuts will affect each department or agency. For comparison, I also enclosed Branstad’s original spending cut proposal, announced January 10, and a document comparing those planned cuts with the deappropriations bill’s provisions.

Continue Reading...

Branstad bill would reduce insurance coverage for mental health care

Governor Terry Branstad has introduced a bill that would make Iowa the only state not to license mental health counselors. House Study Bill 138 would remove licensing requirements for a number of professions and eliminate some state boards, including the Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Board of Social Work. Mental health counselors are expressing alarm about language that would make social workers, marriage or family counselors, and mental health counselors “registered” rather than “licensed.”

The likely consequence would be insurance companies refusing to cover services by unlicensed providers, depriving Iowans of access to therapy unless they are able to pay the full cost of mental health counseling out of pocket.

I enclose below an action alert the Iowa Mental Health Counselors Association posted yesterday, which contains talking points to use when communicating with state lawmakers about House Study Bill 138. The bill has been assigned to a subcommittee of Republican State Representatives Bobby Kaufmann and Dawn Pettengill and Democratic State Representative Mary Mascher.

The lobbyist for the association representing mental health counselors said yesterday, “The bill as drafted will not be having a subcommittee next week and is taking on serious water. The speaker’s office said that [House Speaker Linda Upmeyer’s] members are getting more emails on the licensure provisions of that bill than they did on collective bargaining.” According to one rumor, the bill may be revised and reintroduced next week, so concerned citizens should call the governor’s office (515-281-5211) to share their views with Branstad’s staff.

UPDATE: A Facebook commenter reached Kaufmann, chair of the subcommittee, by phone on February 24: “He said this bill was assigned to him, he thinks it’s a bad bill and he’s going to kill it.”

SECOND UPDATE: On a different Facebook thread, someone reported speaking to House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow about this bill, having run into him while shopping. Hagenow indicated House Study Bill 138 would not advance in its current form.

Multiple sources confirmed on Friday that lawmakers have been bombarded with constituent contacts about this legislation. When the governor’s staff introduce a new and improved version of this proposal, I would guess they will leave licensing of mental health care professionals alone.

According to Claire Celsi, Hagenow announced at a February 25 legislative forum in Clive that the governor is wrong on this bill and that lawmakers do not support it.

Continue Reading...

3,000 University of Iowa students will pay the price for Republican budget policies

See important update below: Jon Muller questions whether the University of Iowa “committed an act of scholarship fraud.”

Three weeks after Governor Terry Branstad signed into law large mid-year budget cuts for Iowa’s state universities, some 3,015 incoming or current students at the University of Iowa learned that they will be picking up part of the tab.

Continue Reading...

If Todd Prichard runs for governor, his stump speech will sound like this

State Representative Todd Prichard spoke to a packed room at last night’s Northwest Des Moines Democrats meeting. Now in his third term representing Floyd and Chickasaw counties in the Iowa House, Prichard is ranking member on the Agriculture Committee and also serves on Natural Resources, Veterans, and Ways and Means, as well as on an Appropriations subcommittee. Pat Rynard recently profiled the army veteran and former prosecutor who may run for governor in 2018.

I’ve transcribed most of Prichard’s remarks from the Des Moines gathering below and uploaded the audio file, for those who want to listen. He speaks directly and fluidly without coming across as rehearsed or too polished, a common problem for politicians.

At one point, Prichard commented that Republicans didn’t spend a million dollars trying to defeat him last year, as the GOP and conservative groups did against several Iowa Senate Democratic incumbents. Republicans tested some negative messages against him with a telephone poll in August, but apparently didn’t sense fertile ground. Prichard’s opponent Stacie Stokes received little help from her party, compared to some other GOP candidates for Iowa House seats, including a challenger in a nearby district.

Based on the speech I heard on Tuesday, I would guess that if Prichard runs for governor, Republicans may regret not spending a million dollars against him in 2016.

One more point before I get to the transcript: Prichard is living proof that retiring lawmakers should not be allowed to hand-pick their own successors. When State Representative Brian Quirk resigned to take another job soon after winning re-election in 2012, he wanted his former high school football coach Tom Sauser to take his place. As a Bleeding Heartland reader who’s active in Floyd County described here, Prichard decided to run for the House seat shortly before the special nominating convention and barely won the nomination.

Prichard had a chance to start his political career because several days elapsed between his learning about Quirk’s preferred successor and the House district 52 nominating convention. Too often, Iowa Democratic legislators announce plans to retire only a day or two before candidates must submit papers to the Secretary of State’s Office. If Quirk had retired right before the March 2012 filing deadline, as three House Democrats did last year, his friend with the inside track would have been the only Democrat able to replace him. Nothing against retired teachers, but Sauser was not a potential future leader of the party, as Prichard is becoming.

Continue Reading...

Iowa attorney general: Outside counsel should defend collective bargaining law

To “avoid any questions about a potential conflict,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller will request that outside legal counsel defend the state against a public employee union’s legal challenge to Iowa’s new collective bargaining law. AFSCME, the largest labor union representing state workers, and four of its members filed suit on February 20, charging that House File 291 violates Iowa constitutional provisions on equal protection and non-interference in contracts. In a statement I enclose in full below, Miller said he will ask the Iowa Executive Council to approve other counsel for this case, because “the new collective bargaining law has the potential to existentially threaten the viability of public sector unions,” which have supported him in past campaigns.

The council is likely to approve Miller’s request. Its five members are Governor Terry Branstad, Secretary of State Paul Pate, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and State Auditor Mary Mosiman. Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press, “[Miller] summed it up when he said that AFSCME had supported him in the past and he wants to avoid any questions about a potential conflict.”

The Attorney General’s Office defended the Branstad administration against a lawsuit challenging the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home, for which AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan was a plaintiff. But outside counsel defended the state when Democratic lawmakers and Homan challenged the governor’s use of line-item vetoes to close Iowa Workforce Development offices.

Miller may need to ask outside counsel to be appointed if other labor unions and public employees file additional lawsuits challenging the collective bargaining law. Aside from the points raised by AFSCME, several other provisions may raise constitutional questions:

• The law bans automatic payroll deductions for labor union dues, while allowing such deductions to continue for professional association memberships or recurring charitable contributions.

• The law may violate free association rights by requiring unions to win a majority of all eligible voters, not just those who cast ballots, in order to stay certified.

• The law eliminates a quid pro quo contained in the first paragraph of Chapter 20, which could be seen as a due process violation.

Continue Reading...

Read the first lawsuit challenging Iowa's horrible new collective bargaining law

AFSCME Iowa Council 61 and four of its members filed suit today in Polk County District Court, saying the collective bargaining law Governor Terry Branstad signed on Friday is unconstitutional. I enclose below the petition filed on behalf of Iowa’s largest union representing state employees, as well as the plaintiffs’ request for expedited hearing. The filing repeatedly refers to “the amendments” because House File 291 amended Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code, which has regulated collective bargaining since 1974.

The new law’s disparate treatment of “public safety workers” and other public employees is the central issue raised in AFSCME’s lawsuit. Plaintiffs argue that Article I, section 6 of the Iowa Constitution requires that “all laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation” and that the legislature “shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.” All four individual plaintiffs fail to qualify as “public safety workers,” and therefore have lost almost all meaningful collective bargaining rights, even though some of their occupations are as dangerous or more so, compared to some of the “public safety” jobs. Johnathon Good is a corrections officer, Ryan De Vries is a police officer III, Terra Kinney is a motor vehicle enforcement officer, and Susan Baker is a drafter for the University of Northern Iowa. Excerpt from page 7 of the petition:

The arbitrary definition of “Public Safety Employee,” the arbitrary classification of public employees as “Public Safety Employees” or other public employees and the arbitrary classification of bargaining units into those whose members are at least thirty percent “Public Safety Employees” and those whose members are not which are included in the Amendments deprive Officer Good, Officer De Vries, and Ms. Baker of the constitutional guaranty of equality of all before the law that is set forth in Art. I, § 6 of the Iowa Constitution.

The petition also argues that “transition procedures” altering and terminating bargaining procedures and schedules established in the union contracts violate Article I, section 21 of the Iowa Constitution, which prohibits passing a “law impairing the obligation of contracts.”

Before the text of House File 291 became public, Republican lawmakers were rumored to be at odds over whether to exempt “public safety workers” from most of the new restrictions on collective bargaining. Supposedly Iowa House Republicans opposed that division, while key GOP senators wanted to copy the political strategy used in Wisconsin six years ago. The collective bargaining bill Iowa House Republicans approved in 2011 did not treat law enforcement officers or firefighters differently from other public employees.

Sources in Iowa’s labor community expect other lawsuits challenging the collective bargaining law to be filed later this year. The two main union-busting provisions are seen as particularly ripe for challenge: onerous election requirements for unions to stay certified, and a ban on automatic payroll deductions for union members, even though employees will still be able to automatically deduct membership fees in other professional associations and recurring charitable donations. Neither provision was part of the 2011 Iowa House collective bargaining bill.

Continue Reading...
View More...