Republican policies fuel Iowa's workforce crisis, rural decline

Senator Joe Bolkcom represents Iowa City and is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee.

Iowa’s workforce crisis and rural decline can be traced to irresponsible Republican tax and economic policies year after year.  

Their actions bring to life the words of their puppet master Grover Norquist, who famously said, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

As Governor Kim Reynolds and legislative Republicans return to the statehouse, their workforce crisis and abandonment of rural Iowa will only grow worse with more tax cuts for Des Moines millionaires. The Republican strategy is to stay the course by continuing to starve rural Iowa’s struggling public schools, exhausted health care providers, declining state parks, dangerous prisons, and neglected state resource centers. 

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Exclusive: Governor stacked labor relations board with Republicans

Governor Kim Reynolds has kept one of three positions on Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) vacant for more than a year, and since October has ensured the board operates with Republican members only.

By law, the board that handles public sector labor relations “shall consist of three members appointed by the governor,” of whom no more than two “shall be of the same political affiliation.” Reynolds has left one position unfilled since August 2020 and recently replaced Democrat Mary Gannon with Republican Jane Dufoe. She serves alongside Erik Helland, a longtime Republican and former state lawmaker.

The current situation runs counter to the spirit of PERB’s partisan balance requirement and potentially allows Reynolds to circumvent the Iowa Senate confirmation process, by shifting board members who are not confirmed to an open position.

In addition, state salary records show Reynolds’ GOP appointees to PERB immediately earned higher pay than Gannon, despite the Democrat’s years of experience. For decades, under Republican and Democratic governors, PERB members not chairing the board had received identical salaries.

The governor’s communications director Alex Murphy confirmed Dufoe’s party affiliation in September, then did not respond to eight follow-up inquiries about the PERB appointments over a three-month period.

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The 21 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2021

It’s time for another review of Bleeding Heartland’s most widely-read posts from the year that just ended. I always struggle a bit with this task, because the work I’m most proud of doesn’t always overlap with what resonated most with readers. Also, I’m wary of watching traffic numbers too closely, because I try not to let potential clicks drive my editorial decisions.

However, I always gain some insight from this review, so here goes.

This list draws from Google Analytics data about total views for 598 posts this website published during 2021: 362 written by me and 236 by other authors. I left out the site’s front page and the “about” page, where many people landed following online searches.

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New task force will review Iowa juvenile justice system

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen is forming a task force to undertake a “holistic and comprehensive” review of the juvenile justice system, Iowa’s Director of Juvenile Court Services Chad Jensen announced on December 14.

Speaking at the annual Summit on Justice and Disparities in Ankeny, Jensen explained that Iowa’s juvenile justice system is decentralized among multiple entities and governmental agencies. Some stakeholders have introduced “courageous initiatives” to improve the system in recent years. “While good intentioned,” he added, those programs and services “do have ramifications throughout the entire system.”

The task force will “review the alignment, governance structure, and the funding of Iowa’s juvenile justice system.” Members will also attempt to identify “decision points” that fuel racial, ethnic, or gender disparities for Iowa youth, and develop proposals to improve those outcomes.

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State concedes masks needed around some students with disabilities

The Iowa Department of Education has conceded that facial coverings may be required in some school settings to ensure students with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities.

In a December 1 order distributed to Area Education Agencies, agency officials determined that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows schools to make an exception to a state law that generally bans mask mandates, if a student’s Individualized Education Programs (IEP) team finds masking is needed for that child to receive the education federal law guarantees.

However, the department’s order said the IDEA does not require public schools to adopt district-wide mask mandates.

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Iowa Ag Department still ignoring state auditor's warnings

With the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and Single Audit for the 2020 fiscal year in the rear view mirror, the State Auditor’s office has been churning out its annual “reports of recommendations” for state government agencies and other entities. The majority of reports issued so far have cited no concerns related to internal control or compliance with statutory requirements.

However, the latest report for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), published on November 23, pointed to several practices “for which we believe corrective action is necessary.”

A news release noted that State Auditor Rob Sand “recommended the Department strengthen internal controls over receipts in certain Bureaus,” adding, “The finding discussed above is repeated from the prior year.”

That’s an understatement. Sand and the previous two state auditors have been warning IDALS about the same internal control problems for more than ten years.

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