Democratic legislators, AFSCME leader sue Branstad over closing juvenile home

Four Democratic state legislators and the leader of Iowa's largest public employee union filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking to block Governor Terry Branstad's administration from closing the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo (Tama County) this month. Joining AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan are gubernatorial candidate Senator Jack Hatch, Senator Steve Sodders (whose district includes Toledo), Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith, and former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy. The lawsuit alleges that it is unconstitutional for Branstad to close the home after signing into law budget appropriations for operating the home in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. An official statement from the plaintiffs is after the jump, along with a brief summary provided by Sodders.

When Iowa Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer announced in December that the Iowa Juvenile Home would be closed after all the resident girls were relocated, he said the "difficult decision" was in the best interests of the girls who had lived there. Yesterday Governor Branstad also cited the interests of "those kids who've been mistreated and abused and not gotten their education."

Over the past year, the Des Moines Register's Clark Kauffman has documented outrageous practices at the Iowa Juvenile Home, including long placements in isolated cells. In October, a task force appointed by Branstad recommended reforms for the facility. The lawsuit alleges that at the governor's direction, DHS Director Palmer disregarded the task force's recommendations and will unlawfully use funds appropriated for the Juvenile Home for other purposes.

In 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court found that Branstad had improperly used his line-item veto power to change how state funds were allocated. This case is somewhat different but poses similar constitutional questions.


January 2, 2014

DES MOINES - Today, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan, Senator Jack Hatch, Senator Steve Sodders, Representative Mark Smith, and Representative Pat Murphy filed suit in the Iowa District Court for Polk County to stop Governor Branstad's closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home.

The lawsuit, which was filed against Governor Terry Branstad and DHS Director Charles Palmer, seeks an injunction to prevent the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home.

"The legislature passed and the governor signed into law legislation that provides funding for the operation of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo in both Fiscal Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015. We believe it is unconstitutional and unlawful for the governor to close the Juvenile Home and disregard legislation that was passed by the Iowa House and Iowa Senate and signed into law by him," said AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan.

"Throughout Governor Branstad's time in office, he has demonstrated a pattern of blaming others for his decisions. He has refused to accept responsibility for the mismanagement of the Iowa Juvenile Home by his managers. He has tried to claim that the decision to close the home was a result of the Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force's recommendations. However, the task force's report contains no such recommendation to close the Juvenile Home," added Homan.

"Over the past few weeks, the public has heard many testimonials from girls who resided at the Iowa Juvenile Home. These testimonials show how the staff of the Juvenile Home has made a positive difference in the lives of countless troubled Iowa youth. This lawsuit will hopefully allow the staff to be able to continue to carry on this important mission," added Homan.

AFSCME Iowa Council 61 represents many of the employees at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. Across the state, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 represents 40,000 public and private sector employees.

Brief summary:

The lawsuit filed Thursday alleges that Gov. Terry Branstad in June approved an $8.8 million appropriation for the operation of the Iowa Juvenile Home and that he later appointed the Iowa Juvenile Home Protection Task Force to examine the home and its use of long-term isolation cells.

According to the plaintiffs, Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer, acting at Branstad's direction, then chose to "disregard the recommendations of the task force" and began moving toward closing down the home. As a result, the lawsuit claims, the state will spend the remainder of the $8.8 million on other initiatives, which constitutes a "misappropriation of legally appropriated funds," the lawsuit states.

Citing the imminent closing of the home, the plaintiffs are seeking expedited handling of their request for an injunction to prevent the shutdown. The lawsuit also seeks a ruling on the constitutionality of the governor's actions; a writ ordering that the home remain open; and an injunction that would prevent the "unconstitutional impoundment" of the money appropriated for the home's operation.

Statement released by Senator Sodders:

Senator Sodders: It's not too late to stop Governor Branstad from abandoning children in serious need of help

Senator comments on AFSCME legal effort to block closure of Toledo facility

"I joined this effort because Governor Branstad is abandoning Iowa children in need of serious help.  I hope it will provide an objective, public review of Governor Branstad's mismanagement of the Iowa Juvenile Home.  For many years, the state of Iowa has invested in providing care for children who can't be helped elsewhere.  The goal of this lawsuit is to stop Governor Branstad's shameful attempt to abandon that responsibility."

Statement released by Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith:

"Beyond the obvious constitutional problems with the Governor's action, my primary concern is for the girls at the Juvenile Home. There is no good reason for Governor Branstad to send Iowa girls out of state for rehabilitation or treatment. They are best served by Iowans at an Iowa facility. Governor Branstad should quit ducking responsibility for the problems in his administration and start providing solutions."

  • Once again...

    Once again, Branstad and his appointees flaunt the law and the state constitution. While it is not yet clear what the Court might decide, it is a very legitimate question and I'm very glad to see these state leaders challenging the actions of the Branstad administration.

  • Now it makes sense

    My father, Independent Republican for Free Labor (TM), went off on a jag a few days ago about how Jack Hatch was a clown, doomed, and shouldn't be the Democrats' nominee. "He's just in bed with the unions, and you and I both know that won't get him elected." Not following state politics as closely as DMD or Deeth, I had no idea what got him into this mood.

    Now I know - AFSCME's presence in the lawsuit. It's playing to the anti-union state voters. Most of these folks are understandably disgusted with the stuff in the DMR about the juvenile home, but they default to blaming AFSCME union practices for staff abuses and resident mistreatment.

    Most of the free labor/anti-unionists are looking for a reason to hate Jack Hatch, but I can't help but think the Governor is playing this issue in his opportunistically perfect way. It's his administration holding the buck for poor delinquency oversight & reform, but they're getting to raze the existing facilities, infrastructure and human resources. He'll get to build gleaming new stuff, privatize at least some of it, gut the existing staff - and never disclose how the homes fell into bad practices in the first place.

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