Democrats sue over Branstad veto on Iowa Workforce Development offices

Four Democratic state legislators and the leader of Iowa's largest public employee union filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging Governor Terry Branstad's line-item veto of a provision barring Iowa Workforce Development from closing 36 of its 55 field offices around the state.

UPDATE: Further details are at the end of this post.

Iowa Workforce Development announced plans six months ago to close most of its field offices. Instead, the agency will set up hundreds of "locally enhanced access points" at locations such as public libraries, community and private colleges, county courthouses and Veterans Affairs offices. Iowa Senate Democrats strongly opposed the reorganization, and plans nearly derailed Teresa Wahlert's confirmation as director of Iowa Workforce Development. Many Iowa House Republicans also opposed the office closures, which affected cities and towns in their districts.

In late June, the Iowa House and Senate approved an economic development appropriations bill including funds and language designed to keep all 55 Workforce Development field offices open through the end of the 2012 fiscal year (June 30, 2012). Branstad vetoed that language, saying it "would prohibit Iowa Workforce Development from putting forth an enhanced delivery system that broadens access to Iowans across the state in fiscal year 2012." However, Branstad did not veto the $3 million that legislators allocated to cover operating costs for the field offices.

Iowa House and Senate Democrats sought unsuccessfully to call a special legislative session to override Branstad's veto. Republican lawmakers blocked that effort.

Five plaintiffs filed suit yesterday in Polk County District Court: Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61; State Senator Bill Dotzler of Waterloo; State Representative Bruce Hunter of Des Moines; State Representative Dave Jacoby of Coralville; and State Representative Kirsten Running-Marquardt of Cedar Rapids. They are represented by a prominent labor attorney, Mark Hedberg. Dotzler was the Iowa Senate's most vocal critic of plans to close the workforce development offices. Jacoby is the ranking member of the Iowa House Ways and Means Committee and serves on the State Workforce Development Board. He has expressed concern over the office-closing plan and the process by which it was adopted. Hunter is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Labor Committee.

The lawsuit asserts that the governor exceeded his authority by blocking language on keeping the Iowa Workforce Development offices open but not the $3 million appropriation for that purpose. (NOTE: See update at the bottom of this post.) Excerpt from the court filing:

11. Defendant Governor purported to exercise a line-item veto as to certain provisions of [Senate File] 517 as indicated by this brackets and initialed portions set forth in Exhibit A, and as described in his veto message delivered to the Iowa Secretary fo State of July 27, 2011, a copy of which is attached hereto and marked as Exhibit B.

12. As demonstrated by its content, SF 517 is an appropriations bill, in each instance the provisions vetoed, as indicated by the Defendant Governor's strike brackets and initials, constitute conditions or restrictions on the appropriations made in SF 517. None of the appropriations that were conditioned and restricted by the vetoed provisions, however, were vetoed.

13. Since the appropriations that were to be conditions and restricted by these vetoed provisions were not vetoed, the Defendant Governor's exercise of his item veto power is in violations of limits that were recognized by the Iowa Supreme Court in Rants v Vilsack, 684 N.W.2d 198, 206-207 {Iowa 2004}. [...]

15. Since the Defendant Governor's attempted use of Gubernatorial Item Veto powers, as set out in the Iowa Constitution, to strike from SF 517 language that, in each instance, clearly constituted a condition and/or restrictinos on the various items of appropriations involved, and thus beyond the Governor's Constitutional powers and authority that he had sworn to uphold, a fact of which he knew or reasonably should have known, these purported item vetoes were ineffective, null and void. Accordingly, SF 517 became law as passed, enrolled and submitted to the Governor on June 30, 2011, by the Eighty-Fourth General Assembly, including the provisions the Governor attempted to strike from the bill by improperly using the item veto provisions of the Iowa Constitution.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register, Branstad's communications director Tim Albrecht characterized the lawsuit as "political chest-thumping and political posturing from Danny Homan [...] The governor has full authority to carry out this action." Speaking of political posturing, Homan made a good point in an AFSCME press release on August 22. Speaking about what kind of ammunition Iowans can use to hunt doves, Branstad told reporters, "We need to respect the intent of the legislature and an issue of this magnitude should be decided by the legislature." Yet Homan noted that Branstad ignored bipartisan legislative intent to keep Iowa Workforce Development field offices open.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to expedite hearings on this case. Iowa Workforce Development has already laid off staff and closed some offices, with others closing by the end of December. At the end of this post I've listed all 36 field offices on the chopping block.

The plaintiffs cite a 2004 case Republican Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants filed against Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack. That lawsuit stemmed from an economic development bill, which created the Iowa Values Fund. Vilsack vetoed language cutting income taxes and changing business regulations. Rants maintained that the governor's line-item veto power extended only to appropriations bills, not policy measures. In a unanimous ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court struck down the entire bill because of Vilsack's "unconstitutional action."

The current lawsuit clearly relates to an appropriations bill, but the plaintiffs belief the Rants v Vilsack precedent applies because Branstad vetoed policy language in that bill.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

The 36 Iowa Workforce Development offices to be closed are located in the following cities and towns: Algona, Ames, Atlantic, Boone, Centerville, Charles City, Cherokee, Clarinda, Clinton, Denison, Emmetsburg, Estherville, Fairfield, Glenwood, Harlan, Humboldt, Iowa Falls, Keokuk, Manchester, Maquoketa, Mt. Pleasant, Muscatine, New Hampton, Newton, Oelwein, Orange City, Osceola, Oskaloosa, Pella, Perry, Pocahontas, Red Oak, Shenandoah, Storm Lake, Washington and Waverly. The 16 remaining "regional one-stop offices" will be located in Burlington, Carroll, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Creston, Davenport, Decorah, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Marshalltown, Mason City, Ottumwa, Sioux City, Spencer and Waterloo. Three satellite locations with reduced Iowa Workforce Development services will stay open in Fort Madison, Iowa City and Webster City.

UPDATE: Forgot to add that no matter what happens with the Iowa Workforce Development offices, I think it would be valuable for Iowa courts to determine whether the governor can veto language restricting the use of an appropriation without vetoing the appropriation itself. This may not be the last time Branstad seeks to redirect funding with strings attached. Democratic State Senator Jack Hatch has said that when next year's budget bills are drafted, he plans to be more specific about how state agencies can spend money. That's because the Department of Inspections and Appeals declined to hire additional nursing home inspectors for the current budget year. Legislators allocated $650,000 for that purpose but didn't spell it out in the health and human services appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012.  

UPDATE: Christina Crippes reports for the Burlington Hawk Eye:

IWD spokeswoman Kerry Koonce said the department does not comment on pending litigation, but both the Mount Pleasant and Keokuk offices are scheduled for closure on Aug. 31.

In fact, those two offices essentially already have been shuttered in advance of the target date. [...]

"It is my understanding that there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of persons at the Fort Madison office," Fife-LaFrenz said. "Currently, there is no (workforce training) class being offered in Fort Madison. It defeats the reason that we worked so hard to get an office to stay open in Lee County."

Fife-LaFrenz said she did not know whether classes would begin to be offered or if Lee County residents would have to continue to drive to the Burlington office for training. [...]

There are access points in Lee County at the Keokuk, Fort Madison, Donnellson, West Point and Montrose libraries, as well as at God's Way Christian Center, 1629 Des Moines St. in Keokuk. More sites are expected to go online soon, including at Southeastern Community College southern campus in Keokuk.

"The (federally funded) Workforce Investment Act will have a presence in Keokuk at the SCC campus in the enrollment services office, for those individuals looking for assistance with job training," said Iowa Works Region 16 Director Deb Dowell.

She said the job training staff will not be able to assist with the computer access points, which will be located outside the SCC enrollment services office.

In Henry County, computer access point services will continue to be offered at the Fellowship Cup, 203 N. Jefferson St., in Mount Pleasant, and at the Salem library. More sites also are expected to go online soon, including at the SCC center in Mount Pleasant and at the Iowa Wesleyan campus.

SECOND UPDATE: Branstad told reporters on August 29 that he's "very confident" of winning the lawsuit.

"I think we're in a very strong position in terms of winning," Branstad says. "...The constitution clearly says the governor has authority to veto items in appropriations bills."

But Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo who is part of the lawsuit, says Branstad didn't veto all the money for operating those 37 offices, just a fraction of it.

"I don't think he knows exactly what he vetoed," Dotzler said. "I mean, he did veto $3.5 million, but it takes about $15 (million) to keep all those offices open."

Dotzler says Branstad needs to tell Iowans what he plans to do with the rest of the money legislators set aside to run those satellite Workforce Development offices.

"By the governor vetoing the $3.5 million, he did make it much more difficult to keep all the offices open," Dotzler says. "but he didn't veto the whole appropriation."

The original news stories about this lawsuit suggested that Branstad vetoed plans for using that $3.5 million but not the appropriation itself. If he did veto the money connected to language on keeping all the field offices open, he's probably on stronger legal ground.

  • IWD & their lies

    There are not hundreds of access points. There are currently 61 functioning. There will be more added, but it won't be hundreds more. Teresa Walhert has revised the number several times, lowering or raising the number depending on her audience so it is difficult to believe any number she gives at this point.  

    Access points are not a new concept, community colleges have had terminals for the past several years. The majority of community colleges receive IWD funding for employment & retraining services and terminals are available for job placement purposes. If people have computer skills, access points are fine. Unfortunately, many in Iowa seeking employment do not possess those skills.

    After the rural offices close, many Iowans will need to drive 60-80 miles to reach a live person in a center. If you are unemployed for 6-8 weeks, you need to complete a 3-4 hour training at an IWD office. It will be a great hardship for those with limited incomes to travel. Even to reach an access point, some Iowans will need to drive 30 miles or more.

    Access points are an outdated concept. If IWD wanted to enhance services, they should develop a website that could be accessed from any computer, anywhere in the country (or county for that matter). Users have individual passwords, so there is no reason why service should be limited to the use of a certain terminal. IWD officials have repeatedly been asked to explore utilization from any computer, but they hide behind privacy concerns. With Amazon, PayPal, the federal government, banks, etc. all trusting the Internet for billions of dollars worth of transactions, please explain to me what IWD has to worry about.

    What about the 200,000 jobs that Bransted promised to create? Shouldn't IWD play a role in that? Have they written off all the areas where current offices are location? IWD is supposed to be pairing job seekers with employers. How will this be accomplished if there are employees in 16 places? State offices & jobs help anchor rural towns. Their presence boosts economic development in smaller communities. Do you really want everyone to live in Des Moines?

    Many of the unemployed lack the computer skills or language skills necessary to manipulate the IWD programs. Try it if you don't believe me. IWD is notorious for downtime. They cannot keep their system operational for 40 hours per week at their current 55 locations. You can verify that by asking their employees.

    Some job seekers need face to face service. If you can't use a computer you need assistance.

    Some libraries have limits on the amount of time you can be on, so there may not be enough time for those that do know how to use a computer. Again - best scenario would be for services to be available through ANY computer.

    I don't know that we need 55 offices, but no strategic planning happened to determine what service delivery model would be best for Iowa.

    There aren't volunteers out there anymore; remember - you get what you pay for. Effective job services require training and experience, just like your job couldn't be done by anyone walking in off the street. Director Wahlert and the Governor's distain for state employees is evident, so they are downplaying the skill set required to effectively work with the unemployed population who often are suffering from financial problems and depression.

    None of those access points (except the community college) are getting paid to provide this service, yet they are expected to get training, provide the Internet connection, equipment, a phone line and to provide assistance. Why is it OK for IWD to delegate their responsibilities to others without compensation? Are any of you ready to plow the roads or run the campgrounds free of charge?

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