# State Government



A raise for Iowa lawmakers is long overdue

State Representative Joel Fry floor manages a bill on raising elected officials’ salaries on April 18

Before adjourning for the year on April 20, the Iowa Senate did not take up a last-minute bill from the House that would have given state legislators and statewide elected officials a $10,000 raise, effective 2025.

Lawmakers should not wait until the closing days of the next session to address this issue. Stagnant, relatively low salaries are a real barrier to bringing more diverse perspectives and life experiences to the statehouse.

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Iowa should comply with National Voter Registration Act

State Representative Adam Zabner being sworn in as a legislator in January 2023

Adam Zabner represents Iowa House district 90, covering part of Iowa City. He delivered remarks on this topic as a point of personal privilege in the Iowa House on April 10; you can listen here.

American democracy is at its best when Americans participate. Unfortunately, Iowa’s Department of Health and Human Services is holding some Iowans back from participating in our elections.

In 1993, Congress, with bipartisan support from Iowa’s federal delegation, passed the National Voter Registration Act to encourage participation. The NVRA is the reason you are asked to register to vote every time you renew your driver’s license.

The bill also requires that Americans be given a chance to register to vote every time they register or renew their registration for Medicaid. Nationally, the NVRA has been a roaring success. In particular, the provisions around Medicaid have helped improve voter registration rates among low-income Americans and people of color, groups that have historically been underrepresented in elections and in government.

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Governor's summer meal grants amount to "crumbs for Iowa kids"

Free summer meal provided by the Cedar Rapids Community School District in June 2023. Photo originally published on the school district’s Facebook page.

Governor Kim Reynolds asked state legislators this year to “join me in making literacy a top priority in every Iowa classroom.”

Judging by her approach to feeding hungry kids, the governor appears to lack basic numeracy skills.

On April 10, the governor’s office and Iowa Department of Education announced “$900,000 in competitive grants to help more Iowa children and teens access nutritious meals and snacks during the summer months.” Those federal funds, which Reynolds is drawing from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, may help a few thousand more kids receive food while school is out.

But in December, Reynolds turned down $29 million in federal funding—more than 30 times the value of the new grants. Those funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program would have provided food assistance worth $120 to each of an estimated 240,000 Iowa children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

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Want stronger CAFO regulations? Then stop Senate File 2370

Downstream of the Dunning’s Spring waterfall in Decorah; photo by Ralf Broskvar, available via Shutterstock.

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

Given Iowa’s 721 polluted waterways, it’s clear current factory farm rules and regulations don’t adequately safeguard water quality or public health. Stronger regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are needed to protect water quality from worsening.

Yet a section of Senate File 2370—passed by the Senate along party lines and now pending in the Iowa House—would permanently prohibit the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from strengthening CAFO regulations. The bill, which Governor Kim Reynolds’ office introduced, would codify the governor’s Executive Order Number 10, issued last year. That order required every state agency to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code in order to promote private sector development.

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Iowans must stand with victims during Sexual Assault Awareness Month

State Auditor Rob Sand speaks at a public town hall in Onawa (Monona County) on May 22, 2023. Photo provided by State Auditor’s office.

Rob Sand is Iowa’s state auditor.

Lots of topics get swept under the rug because they’re not comfortable for us to confront. Sometimes we’d rather pretend the problems don’t exist or couldn’t happen in a place like Iowa. But they do, and it can happen anywhere—even in our great state. It is our obligation to confront them in order to solve them.

I’ve always spoken out on behalf of victims of sexual violence. From my time as a prosecutor putting or keeping rapists and pedophiles behind bars, to voting against taxpayer-funded settlements that bail out perpetrators of egregious sexual harassment in my role as a member of the State Appeal Board now that I’m state auditor.

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State of Iowa completes key financial reports on time

For the first time in four years, the state of Iowa submitted its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report and its Single Audit for the previous fiscal year without months of delays. The Iowa Department of Administrative Services released the comprehensive financial report covering fiscal year 2023 (July 2022 through June 2023) in late December, and the State Auditor’s office published the Single Audit on March 29.

The Annual Comprehensive Financial Report typically comes out within six months of the end of a fiscal year. But Iowa State University’s switch to the Workday system for accounting in fiscal year 2020 created enormous difficulty in compiling accurate financial data. As a result, the state’s comprehensive report for FY2020 came out nine months behind schedule.

For the next two years, turnover within the Department of Administrative Services delayed work on the comprehensive report, which came out more than seven months late for FY2021 and eight months late for FY2022.

The Single Audit is a mandatory report covering federal dollars spent by state agencies and universities. It typically comes out in late March but can’t be issued before the comprehensive report is complete. So beginning in FY2020, Iowa’s Single Audit was months late for three years in a row.

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What were these government officials thinking?

State Senator Dan Dawson presents Senate File 2349, regarding defense subpoenas, during floor debate on February 27. Screenshot from official video.

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

What were they thinking? That is a question I ask myself a lot lately.

Those were the first words out of my mouth when the Manhattan district attorney had to postpone Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial on the alleged hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels — the delay necessitated because government lawyers had dropped the ball.

I muttered those words during several days of court hearings in Georgia into Atlanta prosecutor Fani Willis’ affair with a subordinate prosecutor — the one she chose to lead the criminal case against Trump and a dozen other defendants for trying to undo that state’s 2020 presidential election results.

And those words come to mind about bills the Iowa legislature is considering that would affect criminal cases like those brought against state university athletes for their online wagers on sporting events.

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Iowa House and Senate Republicans are not on the same page

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley (left) and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver speak to members of the media on March 14 (photos by Laura Belin)

If you didn’t know Iowa was in the eighth year of a Republican trifecta, you might be forgiven for thinking different parties controlled the state House and Senate after watching the past week’s action.

Dozens of bills approved by one chamber failed to clear the legislature’s second “funnel” deadline on March 15. While it’s typical for some legislation to die in committee after passing one chamber, the 2024 casualties include several high-profile bills.

The chambers remain far apart on education policy, with no agreement in sight on overhauling the Area Education Agencies, which is a top priority for Governor Kim Reynolds. The legislature is more than a month late to agree on state funding per pupil for K-12 schools, which by law should have happened by February 8 (30 days after Reynolds submitted her proposed budget). The Senate Education Committee did not even convene subcommittees on a few bills House Republicans strongly supported.

House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver struck an upbeat tone when speaking to journalists on March 14. Both emphasized their ongoing conversations and opportunities for Republicans to reach agreement in the coming weeks.

But it was clear that Grassley and Whitver have very different ideas about how the legislature should approach its work.

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Iowa governor's 2024 legislative agenda in limbo

State legislators escort Governor Kim Reynolds into the Iowa House chamber on January 9, 2024. Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register (pool).

Governor Kim Reynolds had every reason to be confident about her legislative plans this year. Republican lawmakers approved most of her priorities in 2023, including some that had previously stalled in the Iowa House, such as a “school choice” plan and damage caps for medical malpractice awards.

Ten weeks into the 2024 legislative session, only two policies the governor requested have made it through both chambers. Nearly a dozen other bills still have a chance to reach her desk with few changes.

But Reynolds’ top priority—downgrading the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and centralizing power over special education in her administration—will be dramatically scaled back, if it passes at all.

Three bills the governor introduced and promoted in public remarks or on social media are almost certainly dead for the year. Those include her effort to enshrine “separate but equal” treatment of LGBTQ Iowans.

Leaders moved several of Reynolds’ bills to the “unfinished business” calendar in one or both chambers on March 14, keeping them eligible for floor debate despite missing an important legislative deadline. The rest of the governor’s proposals involve taxes or spending, and are therefore “funnel-proof.”

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Davenport secrecy inspires Iowa House bill on sunshine laws

Photo of Davenport skyline is by WeaponizingArchitecture and available via Wikimedia Commons

The Iowa House has overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to improve local government compliance with the state’s open meetings and open records laws.

House File 2539, approved by 92 votes to 2 on February 22, would increase fines for members of a local government body who participated in an open meetings violation, from the current range of $100 to $500 to a range of $500 to $2,500. Penalties would be greater for those who “knowingly” participated in the violation: each could be fined between $5,000 and $12,500, compared to $1,000 to $2,500 under current law.

The bill would also require all elected or appointed public officials to complete a one- to two-hour training course on Iowa’s open meetings and open records laws (known as Chapter 21 and Chapter 22). The Iowa Public Information Board would provide the training, which officials would need to complete within 90 days of being elected, appointed, or sworn in.

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Proposed CAFO rules won't protect Iowans or the environment

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter. He wrote this essay after attending the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ virtual public hearing about the new Chapter 65 regulations on February 19.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has been revising its regulations for animal feeding operations as dictated by Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive Order 10, issued in early 2023.

Chapter 65 of the Iowa administrative code has long contained confusing and inadequate rules, which are open to manipulation by livestock producers and the DNR.

The DNR tried to revise the regulations recently to provide more protection for Iowa’s waters in areas of karst terrain. But the governor’s “Administrative Rules Coordinator” Nate Ristow blocked the proposed rule, because it would not reduce the “regulatory burden” on livestock producers.

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Iowa's revised abortion rules still more political than medical

The Iowa Board of Medicine has unanimously approved a new version of administrative rules related to a near-total abortion ban Republicans hope to enforce in the future.

The law, known as House File 732, is currently enjoined under a Polk County District Court order, which the state has appealed. If the Iowa Supreme Court eventually allows the ban to go into effect, the administrative rules would provide some guidance to physicians on how to approach the law’s (mostly unworkable) exceptions.

The revisions approved during a February 15 teleconference meeting address some objections physicians raised when the board discussed the rules in November and January. However, they do not change the reality that the rules don’t match how doctors normally interact with patients seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

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A critical look at the Guidehouse report on Iowa's AEAs

Ted Stilwill served as director of the Iowa Department of Education under Governors Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack. He has also worked with a national nonprofit on program evaluation and school improvement work with several state departments of education and large school districts.

Last fall, Iowa’s Department of Administrative Services entered into a contract with Guidehouse, a business consulting firm, to produce a report on special education in Iowa. The study was designed to bolster Governor Kim Reynolds’ effort to decimate the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and weaken Iowa’s public education system.

The report (enclosed in full below) does not name its authors. How much it cost the state is not known. The Reynolds administration has not shared its directions to Guidehouse. The consulting firm has no apparent expertise or track record in the education world. Nothing in the report indicates that a single Iowan was engaged in its preparation.

Most importantly, I believe the Guidehouse conclusions about AEAs are flawed.

Of the three general negative charges against AEAs, none hold up to scrutiny, even when using data from the report.

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"It's embarrassing"—Democrats slam do-nothing Iowa House environment panel

From left: Democratic State Representatives Austin Baeth, Molly Buck, Josh Turek, Elinor Levin, Sharon Steckman, and Adam Zabner. Screenshot from video posted to Facebook on February 8.

“When I joined Environmental Protection, I never envisioned that I would be talking about a raccoon bounty, but here we are,” Democratic State Representative Josh Turek said on February 7, while the House Environmental Protection Committee considered the only bill on the agenda that day.

As they weighed in on the bill, Democrats voiced broader frustrations about the committee’s failure to engage with any of Iowa’s serious environmental challenges.

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Iowa's most shameful ranking yet

Kali White VanBaale is an Iowa-based novelist, creative writing professor, and mental health care advocate. Find more of her work at kwhitevanbaale.substack.com (where this essay first appeared) and www.kaliwhite.com.     

In late January, the Treatment and Advocacy Center released an annual report, “Prevention Over Punishment: Finding the Right Balance of Civil and Forensic State Psychiatric Hospital Beds.” It says in part:

The number of state psychiatric hospital beds for adults with severe mental illness has continued to decline to a historic low of 36,150, or 10.8 per 100,000 population in 2023, with a majority of state hospital beds occupied by people who have been committed to the hospital through the criminal legal system. This strategy of prioritizing admission of forensic patients effectively creates a system where someone must be arrested to access a state hospital bed in many states.

Other key findings:

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Governor's latest attack on trans Iowans can't be constitutional

Photo by Laura Belin from a rally outside the Iowa capitol on March 5, 2023

UPDATE: On February 6, Republicans advanced this bill from an Iowa House subcommittee. A few hours later, the full House Education Committee amended the bill to remove the driver’s license section, then approved it along party lines. Democrats requested a public hearing, which took place on February 12 (video). Following committee passage, the bill was renumbered as House File 2389. Original post follows.

Governor Kim Reynolds didn’t give LGBTQ Iowans even one full day to celebrate the downfall of a bill to remove gender identity protections from Iowa’s civil rights law.

The latest legislative proposal from the governor’s office would lay the foundation for “separate but equal” treatment of transgender Iowans and what one advocate called an “astonishing government violation of privacy rights.”

Although House Study Bill 649 contains some language designed to bolster the state’s potential defense in court, there’s no way the governor’s newest effort to codify discrimination against LGBTQ people could be constitutional.

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Governor's AEA plan would harm Iowa children, families, and school districts

David Tilly is a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education. He gave Bleeding Heartland permission to publish a letter he emailed to all Iowa state legislators on January 24 regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed changes to Area Education Agencies. The governor’s bill has been introduced as Senate Study Bill 3073 and House Study Bill 542.

An open letter to Iowa State Senators and Representatives regarding the AEA System:

My name is David Tilly and I was the Deputy Director at the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) between 2012 and 2020. I administered the state education budget for PK-12 Education at the IDE during those years, and I managed all of the Department’s PK-12 programs and staff. I am a special educator by training (my Ph.D. is in School Psychology) and I worked for over 30 years in Iowa at all levels of the education system. Through these experiences, I learned quite a bit about how Iowa’s education system works.

I have analyzed SSB3073/HSB542 (changes to AEAs) carefully and I will begin my comments with the punchline: If implemented as written, these bills will harm Iowa children, families and small school districts.

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Advocates say Iowa Medicaid violating federal voter registration law

Zachary Roth is the national democracy reporter for States Newsroom. Jared Strong is senior reporter for Iowa Capital Dispatch, where this article first appeared.

Iowa’s health department is failing to comply with the federal requirement to make voter registration accessible to people applying for Medicaid, multiple advocates say, likely leading significant numbers of low-income Iowans to be left off the rolls.

“I would regard this as major noncompliance with an agency’s obligations under the NVRA,” said Brenda Wright, special litigation and policy counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She was referring to the National Voter Registration Act, the 1993 law that requires state agencies to offer their clients the chance to register to vote. 

The concerns come at a time when Iowa already appears to be struggling to get people on public assistance to register, and as the 2024 election approaches.

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Iowa Department of Corrections asks for cannabis exemption

Carl Olsen is the founder of Iowans for Medical Marijuana.

The Iowa Department of Corrections filed two study bills this week, asking Iowa legislators to make an exception to the state’s medical cannabis program, Iowa Code Chapter 124E.

Senate Study Bill 3020 and companion House Study Bill 524 call for amending the statute so the state can

Revoke a medical cannabidiol registration card issued to a person who becomes committed to the custody of the director of the Iowa department of corrections or placed under the supervision of the Iowa department of corrections.

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2024 Iowa maternal health priorities: Birth centers, Medicaid, and midwives

Photo provided by the author, showing maternal health advocates advocating for licensure of certified professional midwives during an Iowa House Ways and Means subcommittee meeting in February 2023.

Rachel Bruns is a volunteer advocate for quality maternal health care in Iowa.

This time last year I wrote about five policies that would improve maternal health in Iowa. I’m updating the piece for the 2024 legislative session with a focus on three core priorities. 

Although access to abortion care and contraceptives are critical to maternal and infant health, I do not discuss those topics here. I want to highlight lesser-known aspects of maternal health specific to prenatal, birth, and postpartum care, which receive much less media coverage.

For the 2024 legislative session, I am focusing on three issues I raised last year, which have a strong chance to be enacted. These policies would improve maternal health in Iowa by expanding access to midwives and expanding prenatal care options. I wrote at length in 2021 about how midwives save lives, and it seems like every week a different study or article underscores how the midwifery model of care leads to better outcomes. If you’re interested in diving deeper, one of my favorite resources released in 2023 is this Issue Brief on Maternity Medicaid Strategies from the Maternal Health Hub.

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Iowa legislative predictions from the Magic 8 Ball

Photo of Magic 8 ball is by ChristianHeldt, available via Wikimedia Commons

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring. He can be reached at BruceLear2419@gmail.com  

When my kids were younger, we had a Magic 8 Ball. If you asked a Yes or No question and shook it, up popped an answer like, “Without a doubt,” “Outlook not so good,” or “Concentrate and ask again.” 

The Iowa legislature’s 2024 session began on January 8. Like last year, public education may well be on top of the agenda. With that in mind. I thought I’d introduce the Bruce Lear Magic 8 Ball. My version is next generation, so there’s an explanation with each answer. 

Like all predictions, they may be flat wrong, and they sure aren’t inevitable, especially if the education community unites and acts.

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Best of Bleeding Heartland's original reporting in 2023

Before Iowa politics kicks into high gear with a new legislative session and the caucuses, I want to highlight the investigative reporting, in-depth analysis, and accountability journalism published first or exclusively on this site last year.

Some newspapers, websites, and newsletters put their best original work behind a paywall for subscribers, or limit access to a set number of free articles a month. I’m committed to keeping all Bleeding Heartland content available to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. That includes nearly 500 articles and commentaries from 2023 alone, and thousands more posts in archives going back to 2007.

To receive links to everything recently published here via email, subscribe to the free Evening Heartland newsletter. I also have a free Substack, which is part of the Iowa Writers Collaborative. Subscribers receive occasional cross-posts from Bleeding Heartland, as well as audio files and recaps for every episode of KHOI Radio’s “Capitol Week,” a 30-minute show about Iowa politics co-hosted by Dennis Hart and me.

I’m grateful to all readers, but especially to tipsters. Please reach out with story ideas that may be worth pursuing in 2024.

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Iowa environmentalists, it's time to play hardball

Photo of Allen Bonini at Lincoln’s Tomb in Oak Ridge National Cemetery (Springfield, Illinois) provided by the author and published with permission.

Allen Bonini retired in January 2021 after nearly 45 years as an environmental professional, serving in various technical, managerial and leadership positions in water quality, recycling and solid waste across the states of Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Most recently, he served fifteen and a half years as the supervisor of the Watershed Improvement Section at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. In retirement he continues to advocate for responsible public policy and actions to improve and protect water quality in Iowa.

I devoted my entire 44 year professional career trying to protect and improve our environment across three Midwestern states. I tried to do that through the policies, programs and advocacy I’ve been involved with and/or led. Some who know me personally know I rarely back down from a fight or am afraid to call out injustices or wrong-headed decisions by organizational leadership—whether in state, regional or local governments or in corporate America (all of which I’ve served in one or more capacities throughout my career).

A select few of you know I believe “sometimes you have to play hardball.” That sums up my view of where we need to go in terms of the efforts to clean up our water and other natural resources here in Iowa. 

My fellow environmental colleagues, it’s time to recognize you don’t win an alley fight by bringing an olive branch, and you don’t take a knife to a gun fight.

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Clarke County livestock dwarf human population, heighten water crisis

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

A labyrinth of limited liability companies own numerous animal feeding operations in Clarke County that continue to rely on the city of Osceola’s depleted water supply, even as city residents face restrictions since the Osceola Water Works Board of Trustees declared a water emergency on October 5.

A search of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) animal feeding operation website identifies 27 animal feeding operations in Clarke County. The chart below identifies these facilities, the majority of which appear to house hogs in enclosed structures commonly known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

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Who's behind the surge in Iowa's charter school applications

UPDATE: The Iowa State Board of Education approved all of the applications described below on January 11. Original post follows.

Randy Richardson is a former educator and retired associate executive director of the Iowa State Education Association.

The Iowa Department of Education recently announced that five groups have applied to open eight new charter schools in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids for the 2024/2025 school year. Only one of those five groups is based in Iowa.

The full applications for each proposed charter school are available on this page of the Department of Education’s website. Be aware that some of these applications stretch to nearly 400 pages, so if you want to review them, plan to spend some time on the task.

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Downsizing AEAs would be another attack on Iowa schools

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.  

Governor Kim Reynolds’ attitude toward public education reminds me of a scene from an old movie called the Longest Yard, starring Burt Reynolds. There’s a 2005 Adam Sandler remake, but that’s more like a missed field goal.

Burt plays Paul Crewe, a wisecracking, pro quarterback who is convicted and sent to prison. The warden stages a game between the guards and prisoners.

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Crisis in Iowa nursing homes demands our attention

Mary Weaver writes a regular column for the Jefferson Herald and Greene County News online, where this commentary first appeared. She is a former registered nurse and former public health nurse administrator, who currently chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Women’s Caucus. Mary resides on a farm near Rippey.

I am saddened, as well as shocked by the horror stories erupting statewide about the deplorable, life-threatening situations occurring in Iowa nursing homes. Stories of gangrene resulting in amputations, a story of a person choking in their own saliva, a story of a person freezing in the winter of 2023 when the alarm door triggered was never given a response.

In complete transparency regarding this subject, in part of my former work life, I was a surveyor for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. That involved inspecting State Certified Home Care agencies as well as nursing homes.

The long-term care or nursing home survey team consisted of three or four people, and the team was usually in a facility for three or four days. Policies were reviewed, charts were audited, comparing orders written to implementation, interviews with residents were conducted, the ombudsman assigned to the facility was visited, staffing ratios for Registered Nurses and Certified Nurses Aids were reviewed using established formulas. Temperature checks of food served were done at mealtime.

It took one day for the team to write the report of the findings, usually a Friday, and the following Monday we were sent to the next facility. Facilities were visited once each year, but unannounced, and if a complaint was received regarding a facility, it was immediately visited.

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Exclusive: Agencies spent $1 million on Iowa governor's office costs last year

In March, Governor Kim Reynolds hailed passage of her state government reorganization plan, saying it would be “an important step” to “reduce the size and cost of government.”

The governor’s commitment to making government smaller and less costly hasn’t extended to her own staff.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, other agencies spent more than $1 million to cover operating costs in the governor’s office, documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show. Those funds allowed the governor’s office to spend nearly 50 percent more than its budget appropriation of $2.3 million for fiscal year 2023.

Reynolds’ chief of staff Taryn Frideres told state lawmakers in February that increasing the governor’s office allocation for the current fiscal year by about $500,000 (a 21 percent bump) would be “more transparent” and ensure that “our actual appropriation is closer to our expenses, so that we can budget in a more straightforward way.”

But records Bleeding Heartland reviewed indicate that the $2.8 million general fund appropriation Republicans approved for fiscal year 2024 will fall far short of what the governor’s office will spend on staff salaries and other expenses.

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Iowa's state government should face up to care center concerns

Photo by Jonathunder of Cornerstone Assisted Living in Mason City, available through the GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

A few months ago, I bumped into a former aide to Governor Robert Ray. As we reminisced about the governor, our conversation turned to his nearly daily meetings with journalists.

The aide said yes, those press conferences provided reporters with access to the governor and his comments on issues the state was handling and hearing about from Iowans.

But Ray believed the daily press gatherings had another important benefit, too: Ray could do his job more effectively by listening to the journalists’ questions, the aide said.

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A close look at Iowa's very political—not medical—proposed abortion rules

Iowa’s near-total abortion ban remains blocked by court order. But new details emerged last week about how some provisions might be enforced if the Iowa Supreme Court finds the law constitutional (as the state has requested), or lifts the temporary injunction on the ban while litigation proceeds.

One thing is clear: despite repeated references to “standard medical practice” in the document the Iowa Board of Medicine considered on November 17, the proposed abortion rules bear little resemblance to how physicians actually care for patients seeking an abortion.

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Exclusive: Utilities board documents don't explain mediation decisions

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

Internal Iowa Utilities Board documents provide little insight into the board’s decision to hire Carolina Dispute Settlement Services and North Carolina attorney Frank Laney to conduct mediation sessions on Summit Carbon Solutions’ CO2 pipeline project.

The records the board provided in response to Bleeding Heartland’s request do reveal, however, that the board hoped for a stronger response to mediation from landowners along Summit Carbon’s proposed path.

According to Iowa Utilities Board general counsel Jon Tack, the board did not enter into a written contract with Carolina Dispute Settlement Services or Laney. “The Iowa Utilities Board does not have a contract with Frank Laney or Carolina Dispute Settlement Services and will ensure any payments do not exceed State of Iowa procurement limitations,” Tack told Bleeding Heartland via email on October 30.

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Iowa nice, except if you're blind

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance journalist from the American Midwest. She covers social justice stories, especially pertaining to disability. Her work has appeared in Parents, Mother Untitled, The Omaha World Herald, The Insider and elsewhere. You can follow her on X/Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Iowa is known for being nice. Old-fashioned values seem rooted in the ground, tracing back to 1846. An idyllic landscape, simple and plain, yet beautiful, as depicted in American Gothic. Stop in this fly-over state for a pork tenderloin sandwich, or a Maid Rite, and don’t forget, its state fair is the greatest state fair.

Set against this backdrop of American dreams is a Republican party introducing bill after bill that have altered Iowa in both subtle and blatant ways. The GOP-controlled legislature approved many controversial bills during the 2023 session. One with potentially great consequences for blind Iowans was Senate File 514, the state government realignment sought by Governor Kim Reynolds.

STREAMLINING, OR A “POWER GRAB”?

The state paid nearly one million dollars for Virginia-based Guidehouse to help develop a plan to streamline state government. Although the final Guidehouse report did not make any recommendations related to the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB), the bill the governor proposed to state lawmakers included one important change.

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Secrecy about state licensing decisions won't protect Iowa consumers

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

The rationale behind Iowa’s professional licensing laws is simple: People in certain professions and skilled occupations are required to hold state licenses to work in Iowa. The purpose is to ensure they meet the minimum standard of training and skill necessary to serve consumers safely and effectively.

But a state policy change leads me to wonder whether government officials have lost sight of their obligation to act in the best interests of the public. If officials follow through with the new policy in the coming months, then state legislators should step in next year and correct this ill-conceived decision—and concerned citizens should encourage their lawmakers stick up for the public.

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Summit Carbon proceeding continues to spiral during lull

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

The Iowa Utilities Board announced on October 4 it was canceling the remainder of its 2023 monthly public board meetings, previously set for October 9, November 7, and December 12. The board’s news release cited a “high volume of docket calls,” as well as “the risk of ex parte communications under Iowa law.” Screenshots of the board’s October and November calendars, captured on the morning of October 17, document the board’s schedule in the coming weeks.

The board may be scrambling, in part, due to vacancies in two attorney positions, one for Utility Attorney 1, posted on October 11, and the other for Utility Attorney 2, posted on October 10. It is not known whether these positions are due to staff attrition or staff expansion. An October 12 email to the board’s general counsel, Jon Tack, inquiring about the vacancies went unanswered.

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Iowa Republicans couldn't have been more wrong about defunding Planned Parenthood

When Iowa Republicans gained the trifecta following the 2016 elections, defunding Planned Parenthood was near the top of their agenda. GOP legislators promised a new state-funded family planning program would increase access to reproductive health care and give women more options, especially in rural Iowa.

The latest official data, first reported by the Des Moines Register’s Michaela Ramm, show the program has flopped. In just five years, the number of Iowans receiving services such as contraception, pregnancy tests, Pap smears, and testing or treatment for some sexually transmitted infections dropped by 90 percent compared to the population served during the last year of the previous Medicaid waiver. The number of health care providers involved is down by a staggering 97 percent.

The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services has done almost nothing to promote the program, even as enrollment crashed.

The reality could hardly be more different from the scenario Republicans described in 2017: “connecting folks with their home health care” for essential services by taking Planned Parenthood’s mostly urban clinics out of the equation.

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Summit Carbon mediations raise more questions than they answer

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years.

During the Iowa Utilities Board’s October 3 evidentiary hearing on Summit Carbon Solutions’ proposed CO2 pipeline, Summit attorney Bret Dublinske asked landowner Craig Woodward, “Are you aware that in Cerro Gordo County, 83 percent of the route has been acquired by voluntary agreement?”

Brian Jorde, an attorney for landowners who oppose the pipeline, quickly objected. “Irrelevant. And there’s no evidence of that in the record.”

“I think it’s absolutely relevant, and it can be calculated from the Exhibit Hs, but I’ll withdraw the question,” Dublinske responded.

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Summit Carbon hearings: Who's behind the curtain?

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years. 

Last week, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley denied a request from three counties in the state to investigate Summit Carbon Solutions’ investors. A new statute in North Dakota, which went into effect on August 1, tightens restrictions on foreign ownership of land in that state, among other measures.

But Summit Carbon Solutions, LLC as it exists today was formed in Delaware in 2021, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s database of business entities. (That database shows the Summit Carbon Solutions, LLC created in Iowa in 2020 as “inactive.”) Wrigley explained in a recent letter to county commissioners that the effective date of the new legislation means “this office is unable to conduct a civil review of the company.”

Wrigley’s argument underscores one of the more disturbing aspects of the Summit Carbon matter, which is the false premise that state and local governments are powerless to regulate a Delaware LLC whose ownership structure remains largely a mystery, and whose own legal arguments identify the pipeline it proposes to build as a security threat.

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Misguided government proposal targets "vexatious" people

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Many decades ago, Mrs. Gentry and Mr. Halferty put up with an inquisitive kid’s classroom questions about American democracy and the workings of government.

I did not imagine back then how the meaning of some words could take on such importance in government. Take, for example, a much-talked-about word in Iowa last week, vexatious. It means abrasive, aggravating, annoying, irritating or nettlesome.

Whether you vote for Democrats, Republicans or Whigs, everyone should have access to government records that are not confidential. That is a way for you to understand what your state and local government is doing.

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State board concerned about "vexatious requesters" of public records

The Iowa Public Information Board will consider options for government bodies to deal with individuals who file “excessive and abusive” public records requests. During a September 15 telephonic meeting of the board’s legislative committee, members E.J. Giovannetti and Barry Lindahl tabled proposed legislation that would allow governments to have some people declared “vexatious requesters.”

But they agreed to put the topic on the agenda for the full board, which could adopt an advisory opinion for dealing with burdensome records requests, or could ask the state legislature to address the issue.

Prior to the meeting, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council warned Iowa Public Information Board members that the proposed changes to Iowa Code would “seriously erode” the state’s open records law and would violate the constitution while trying to solve a “nonexistent problem.”

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Iowa board review committee's "public input" was a farce

“It was a great day to hear from Iowans,” Department of Management Director Kraig Paulsen told reporters on September 6. He was speaking in his role as chair of Iowa’s temporary Boards and Commissions Review Committee, after nearly 70 people had testified about proposed changes to more than 100 state boards and commissions.

The two-plus hour public hearing created the impression that affected Iowans had ample opportunities to provide feedback in person. The committee is also accepting comments submitted via email (BCRCcomments@iowa.gov) through September 17.

Although some testimony or written comments may prompt the committee to tweak its plans for certain boards, the reality is that in many ways, Paulsen and other committee members prevented Iowans from offering meaningful input on the proposed changes.

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State funds not used for Kim Reynolds' "Fair-side chats"

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office told a state regulator no public funds were used for the twelve “Fair-side chats” Reynolds held with Republican presidential candidates during the Iowa State Fair last month.

Reynolds conducted friendly interviews with the candidates in the courtyard of JR’s SouthPork Ranch, a restaurant on the state fair grounds. A sign produced for the events featured a logo and the words “Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Fair-side chats.”

I sought to clarify who paid for the sign and other expenses associated with the chats, because Iowa Code Chapter 68A.405A prohibits statewide elected officials from spending public funds on “any paid advertisement or promotion” bearing the official’s “written name, likeness, or voice” in a range of settings, including “A paid exhibit display at the Iowa state fair […].” Reynolds signed that statute (commonly known as the the “self-promotion law”) in 2018.

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Iowa's tobacco use, student aid commissions play valuable role

Democratic State Senator Herman Quirmbach submitted the following written comments to members of the Boards and Commissions Review Committee. They are an extended version of remarks he delivered during the September 6 public hearing at the state capitol. You can view the committee’s draft recommendations here.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Boards & Commissions Review Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on September 6. What follows is a review and extension of my remarks.

I offer the following observations as a member of the Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Commission (Tobacco Commission) and of the College Student Aid Commission (CSAC). I have served on both these commissions for approximately twenty years as an ex-officio non-voting member. Both commissions oversee the implementation and administration of critical state programs to protect the public health (Tobacco) and enhance educational opportunities and workforce development (CSAC). Beyond the functioning of existing programs, members of the commissions provide exceptionally valuable expertise to help guide the development of public policy for the future.

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Proposed cull of Iowa boards will reduce public access, input

Pam Mackey Taylor is the Director of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club.

This summer a new committee, mostly controlled by Governor Kim Reynolds, embarked on a project to review Iowa’s boards and commissions. The six members of the Boards and Commissions Review Committee worked mostly in secrecy, using two-member subcommittees to avoid open meetings law requirements. Members announced their draft recommendations on August 29.

Some of those recommendations would have far-reaching impacts on everyday Iowans and how state government is able to respond to the problems and issues we face, such as clean water, healthy air, and government regulations that work for all of us.

The recommendations appear to reduce and restrict public access and input in the decision-making process, as well as public oversight of state government agencies. These recommendations appear to consolidate power within the governor’s office, where decisions are made behind closed doors with as little public input as possible, and where the only people who have input are the lobbyists and friends of the governor.

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Attorney calls for Iowa Utilities Board investigation

Nancy Dugan lives in Altoona, Iowa and has worked as an online editor for the past 12 years. 

Late in the afternoon on Friday, August 18, attorney Anna Ryon filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings on behalf of Kerry Mulvania Hirth with the Iowa Utilities Board (Summit Carbon Solutions, LLC, IUB docket number HLP-2021-0001).

In the motion, Ryon asserts that Board staff “improperly coerced Ms. Hirth into relinquishing her right to participate in this proceeding that was granted by the Board on July 19, 2023.” Items 12 to 15 of the motion are reproduced in full below:

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Not every Iowa life is sacred

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Deanna Mahoney was like countless Iowa women through the years. She nurtured three children. She worked outside the home to supplement the family income. She loved bowling and mushroom hunting.

That is how she lived.

How she died tells us so much about the way some business owners, and too many government leaders in Iowa, have pushed aside their legal, moral and humanitarian obligations, especially to vulnerable Iowans.

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Iowa Utilities Board should put brakes on Midwest Carbon Express

Bonnie Ewoldt is a Milford resident and Crawford County landowner.

North Dakota’s Public Service Commission threw a major roadblock in the path of Summit Carbon Solutions’ Midwest Carbon Express on August 4 when its three members unanimously denied the company’s hazardous CO2 pipeline permit. According to the commission’s chair, Randy Christmann, Summit “failed to meet its burden of proof to show that the location, construction, operation and maintenance will produce minimal adverse effects on the environment and upon the welfare of the citizens of North Dakota.”

Summit’s proposed route in North Dakota was part of a 2,000-mile, five-state Carbon Storage and Sequestration (CCS) plan to carry hazardous liquid CO2 from seventeen ethanol plants in South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa to North Dakota. where it would be permanently buried underground in abandoned oil wells west of Bismarck. When operational, investors in the $5.5 billion project would reap billions of dollars profit in carbon capture with 45Q federal tax credits. 

However, without the Public Service Commission permit and access to North Dakota’s underground storage sites, the Midwest Carbon Express is a pipeline to nowhere. 

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Surprise Iowa DOT office move is voter suppression

Iowa City Council Member Shawn Harmsen represents Iowa City District B, which includes the east side of Iowa City and the recently closed DOT office.

In a move that will unevenly harm Black and other communities in the Iowa City area through lack of service and voting disenfranchisement, a major department of Governor Kim Reynolds’ administration executed a surprise move from an easily accessible location near several neighborhoods to a remote edge of another city.

The Iowa Department of Transportation sent out a press release on July 21 telling the public that after three more days in the Iowa City location it has inhabited for decades, that office would no longer be there. It was a classic Friday afternoon news dump before the start of RAGBRAI.

The press release claims the new location, out by Theisen’s and Costco on the very edge of Coralville, “was chosen after an extensive search for a space that could better accommodate the volume of customers in the area.”  Unsurprisingly, these claims of “needing more space” and providing better customer service don’t stand up under any kind of scrutiny. In fact, as I will explain, the relocation looks less like an inept move than attempt to conduct racial and partisan voter suppression.

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Fewer words, more confusion as state rewrites Iowa's CAFO rules

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

Rules and regulations need to be clear, orderly, and in one place so they can be completely understood and followed. This is especially true of those focused on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as they impact the public health of 3.19 million Iowans and water quality of 70,297 miles of rivers and streams.

However, Chapter 65, the Iowa administrative code that regulates CAFOs, is becoming weaker, confusing, and more difficult to use under the dictates of Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive Order Number Ten. Rather than have all pertinent information in one place, the executive order will fragment Chapter 65’s essential information and scatter it in several locations online and in offices around the state.

Executive Order Ten, dubbed “The Red Tape Review”, directs all agencies to reduce the number of words throughout the state’s entire code, eliminating language deemed unnecessary, redundant, or even too restrictive. Users will now have to search for specific Iowa statutes to completely understand and comply with CAFO rules and regulations. In the case of Chapter 65, some of the missing information will now be housed on the DNR’s website or obtained from a field office. Both environmental organizations and industry groups oppose this change.

The order requires agencies to develop a cost-benefit analysis for all the rules and regulations. We have serious concerns about how the CAFO industry’s financial interests may dominate public health and the environmental protections. The order also stipulates no new rules can be made more stringent than what is already in the code. Most CAFO regulations are anything but stringent and should be strengthened.

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Fight to Flourish

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

Most teaching happens in a classroom with only students in attendance. Occasionally, a visitor drops by, but that’s rare. However, teachers who direct choirs or bands, or coach or advise activities, have large public audiences chock full of experts ready to second-guess.

I was a high school English teacher and adviser for the yearbook and student newspaper. While it might differ from the pressure felt when a championship game was on the line, it had public pressure. The difference was the boo-birds weren’t in the bleachers, they were on the phone and email.

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Abuse charge highlights reforms needed at Iowa Board of Medicine

In a textbook case of “too little, too late,” the Iowa Board of Medicine appeared to move on July 3 to stop a physician who was recently charged with sexual abuse of a child.

The board did not disclose the name of the physician at the center of “an agreement not to practice,” approved by unanimous vote after an hour-long, closed-session discussion. But the meeting was widely believed to pertain to Dr. Lynn Lindaman.

The Department of Public Safety announced Lindaman’s arrest on June 28. Charging documents accuse him of touching the “privates” of a child born in 2015, first over the child’s clothing and the next day through “skin to skin contact.”

Late last week, the Board of Medicine revealed plans to discuss an agreement with an unnamed physician at a virtual meeting set for 5:30 pm on July 3. The pre-holiday dump is a well-known government tactic for keeping bad or embarrassing news from reaching a wide audience.

It’s not the first time Lindaman has been charged with this kind of crime. A jury determined in 1976 that he had committed “lascivious acts” with a 13-year-old child. Sherri Moler, the victim in that case, had “pleaded and begged” many times for the Iowa Board of Medicine to stop Lindaman and other abusers from practicing. Board members didn’t listen. Neither Governor Kim Reynolds nor the Republican-controlled legislature demanded action.

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Iowa governor names Emily Wharton to lead Department for Blind

Governor Kim Reynolds has appointed Emily Wharton to remain in charge at the Iowa Department for the Blind, effective July 1. Wharton has worked for the agency since 2013 and has served as its director since 2016.

NEW POWER FOR THE GOVERNOR

For generations, the Iowa Commission for the Blind (a three-member body appointed by the governor) had the authority to hire and fire the agency director. But Reynolds’ plan to restructure state government, which Republican lawmakers approved in March, gave that power to the governor.

The change was consistent with language giving Reynolds direct control over several other agency leaders not already serving “at the pleasure of the governor.” But that idea didn’t come from the outside consultant’s report on realigning Iowa government, commissioned by the Reynolds administration at a cost of $994,000. Blind Iowans turned out in large numbeers for state House and Senate subcommittee hearings on the bill and uniformly spoke against the proposal.

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Exclusive: Iowa's late reporting jeopardized universities' federal funds

The state of Iowa’s chronic lateness in producing financial reports threatened to disrupt the flow of federal funds to Iowa’s universities this year, documents obtained by Bleeding Heartland show.

For the third year in a row, the state will be more than six months late to publish its Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR), which the Iowa Department of Administrative Services compiles. As of June 26, only six states had not published their comprehensive financial reports for fiscal year 2022 (see appendix 2 below).

The delay has pushed back the publication of Iowa’s statewide Single Audit, a mandatory annual report for non-federal entities that spend a certain amount of federal dollars.

To address concerns raised by the U.S. Department of Education, state auditors worked out an arrangement to produce individual FY2022 Single Audit reports for Iowa’s three state universities by the end of June. The State Auditor’s office released the first of those reports, covering the University of Iowa, on June 27.

Going forward, state auditors will prepare separate Single Audit reports for each Iowa university by March 31, the federal deadline for providing such documentation.

A notice posted in January on the EMMA website, the leading source for data and documents related to municipal bonds, did not clarify why Iowa’s ACFR would be late again. Tami Wiencek, public information officer for the Department of Administrative Services, has not replied to inquiries about the reason for the extended delay. Records indicate that staff turnover at the agency has derailed what was for many years a smooth process.

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A good Iowa court ruling for public employees—and open records

Iowans who handle public records requests for government bodies gained more protection from possible retaliation on June 23, when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that former Iowa Department of Public Health communications director Polly Carver-Kimm can proceed with both of her wrongful termination claims against the state.

Four justices affirmed a Polk County District Court decision, which allowed Carver-Kimm to allege under Iowa’s whistleblower statute that she was wrongly forced to resign in July 2020, and that Iowa’s open records law protected her activities when fulfilling records requests for the public health agency.

The Iowa Supreme Court did reverse one part of the lower court’s ruling. All seven justices determined that Governor Kim Reynolds and her former spokesperson Pat Garrett should be dismissed as individual defendants, because they lacked the “power to authorize or compel” Carver-Kimm’s termination.

But the impact of the majority decision in Carver-Kimm v. Reynolds extends far beyond the named defendants in one lawsuit.

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The crisis in caring is becoming a catastrophe

John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy firm working for better lives for all Iowans. Contact them at terriandjohnhale@gmail.com.

A crisis ignored eventually leads to catastrophe. That’s what we’re witnessing in long-term care services. 

As far back as 1990, the U.S. Bipartisan Commission on Comprehensive Health Care described as a “crisis” the challenges the nation faced in providing long-term care services to people with disabilities and older citizens.

That commission also used phrases like an “urgent need for action” and “current conditions that are unconscionable” when urging Congress to act on recommendations that would ensure all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable long-term care services in the setting they prefer.

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Seven bad policies Iowa Republicans slipped into budget bills

Second in a series on under-covered stories from the Iowa legislature’s 2023 session.

During the seven years of the Iowa GOP trifecta, the majority party has often enacted significant public policy through eleventh-hour appropriations bills. Just before adjourning in 2019, Republicans amended spending bills to change the judicial selection process, restrict medical care for transgender Iowans on Medicaid, and block Planned Parenthood from receiving sex education grants.

A lengthy amendment to a budget bill approved in the closing hours of the 2020 session made it harder for Iowans to vote by mail and sought to restrict some companies from bidding on electric transmission lines projects.

The Iowa Supreme Court sent the legislature a message in March, blocking the 2020 provision on transmission lines, on the grounds that it was likely passed through unconstitutional “logrolling.”

Republican legislators weren’t pleased with the ruling known as LS Power, but seem to have adapted to it. This year’s “standings” appropriations bill was relatively short and focused on spending and code corrections—a far cry from the usual “Christmas tree” featuring unrelated policy items from lawmakers’ wish lists.

Nevertheless, many surprises lurked in other bills that allocated spending for fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1.

This post focuses on seven provisions that appeared in budget bill amendments published shortly before Iowa House or Senate debate. Most of this policy language never appeared in a stand-alone bill, allowing Republicans to avoid the scrutiny that comes with subcommittee and committee discussions. Democratic legislators had little time to review the proposed budgets before votes on final passage, which mostly fell along party lines.

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Iowa agency's revision of CAFO rules raises concerns

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors and several other environmental organizations recently met with Kelli Book, legal counsel for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), to learn how the agency is revising Chapter 65 of Iowa’s administrative code, dealing with animal feeding operations.

We came away with many concerns about how the DNR is approaching the “Red Tape Review,” required by Governor Kim Reynolds’ Executive Order Number Ten.

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Victory for Sierra Club in Supreme Beef lawsuit

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

A Polk County District Court ruled on April 28 that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) improperly approved Supreme Beef’s nutrient management plan.

Supreme Beef LLC is an 11,600-head cattle feeding operation in Clayton County. It sits at the headwaters of Bloody Run Creek, one of the most treasured trout streams in Iowa and officially designated as an Outstanding Iowa Water.

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New Iowa law will politicize criminal prosecutions

Dr. Thomas Laehn is the Greene County attorney and the only Libertarian to hold an elective partisan office in Iowa. The Des Moines Register published an earlier version of this commentary.

After virtually no meaningful debate and only a single, relatively inconsequential amendment, both chambers of our Republican-controlled legislature approved Governor Kim Reynolds’ massive state government reorganization plan (Senate File 514) within a two-week period. Reynolds signed the bill on April 4.

Unsurprisingly, the new law—which originated in the executive branch—will transfer significant power from the legislature to the governor. Sadly, in both Washington, DC and Des Moines, our legislators (regardless of their party affiliation) have regularly displayed far greater loyalty to their party than to the constitutional system of separated powers to which they swore their allegiance upon assuming office.

While I am thus entirely unsurprised by our Republican legislators’ abdication of their constitutional responsibilities, I am deeply disappointed at their willingness to subvert the local administration of justice in our state in the process. Ironically, the political party that has always claimed to defend local government against those who would otherwise centralize power is systematically stripping our local elected officials—including our county auditors, school boards, and county attorneys—of their discretion.

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A week to celebrate accountability in Iowa

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Last week was one to savor. But it also was a week to reflect on how far we still need to travel to have true citizen engagement in our state and local governments.

First, some savoring.

The Iowa League of Women Voters honored me and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, the nonprofit, nonpartisan education and advocacy organization I lead. The annual Defending Democracy Award means so much—knowing it comes from the organizational descendants of the women who pushed for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote and who rallied in countless places across America, including right here in Bloomfield (Davis County), to make that happen.

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Iowa Senate Republicans hit new low for transparency

Iowa Republican lawmakers aren’t sticklers for tradition. They have used their trifecta to destroy a collective bargaining process that stood for more than four decades, and to overhaul a nearly 60-year-old judicial selection system on a partisan basis.

Iowa Senate Republicans have shattered norms in other ways. In 2021, they stopped participating in budget subcommittee meetings that had been a routine part of legislative work since at least the 1970s. Last year, they kicked all journalists off the chamber’s press bench, which had been designated for the news media for more than a century.

Senate Appropriations Committee members hit a new low for transparency last week. Led by chair Tim Kraayenbrink, Republicans advanced seven spending bills with blank spaces where dollar amounts and staffing numbers would normally be listed.

The unprecedented maneuver ensured that advocates, journalists, and Democratic senators will have no time to thoroughly scrutinize GOP spending plans before eventual votes on the Senate floor. Nor will members of the public have a chance to weigh in on how state funds will be spent during fiscal year 2024, which begins on July 1.

Bleeding Heartland was unable to find any former Iowa legislator, lobbyist, or staffer who could remember anything resembling this year’s Senate budget process.

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Bill limiting Iowa's state auditor would affect us all

Al Charlson is a north central Iowa farm kid, lifelong Iowan, and retired bank trust officer.

The Iowa legislature’s 2023 session has been a dismaying mix of noise and fireworks, combining “debate” over divisive social and cultural issues with fundamental changes in our governing structure that slide through without adequate review and examination. 

Senate File 478, a bill designed to “hog-tie” our state auditor, is a strange combination of both.

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Keep the community in Community-Based Corrections

Story County Supervisor Linda Murken chairs the board of directors of the Second Judicial District Department of Correctional Services. This commentary was jointly signed by the chairs of the Boards of Directors of all eight Iowa Judicial District Departments of Correctional Services (names are listed below).

Community-Based Corrections or CBC provides a vital service to Iowa communities. In corrections, prisons and jails are well known. But you may not be aware of community-based corrections, because that part of the system has been operating quietly in the background for the past 50 years, saving millions in taxpayer dollars. 

Unfortunately, Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to reorganize state government may have serious unintended consequences to our unique and effective system. We are asking all Iowans to learn about CBC to understand why its current structure is valuable. 

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Iowa governor's order all about protecting business

Wally Taylor is the Legal Chair of the Sierra Club Iowa chapter.

Governor Kim Reynolds issued Executive Order 10 on January 10, requiring all state agencies, boards and commissions to repeal all existing administrative rules. These administrative rules are supposed to fill in the details of legislative intent when the legislature passes a law giving an agency, board, or commission authority to carry out its obligations under the statute.

A review of the order reveals what the governor is really up to.

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Iowa leaders could learn from a rural school district's openness

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

An interesting study in contrasts is playing out right now in Iowa. 

One example comes from the Davis County Community Schools in Bloomfield. It is the 96th-largest of Iowa’s 328 public districts, with an enrollment of 1,150 students.

The other example comes from the Iowa legislature and Governor Kim Reynolds. 

The Davis County school board is wrestling with an incredibly difficult decision—whether to hold classes four days a week instead of the traditional five-day-a-week schedule. 

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Governor's order threatens factory farm regulations, water quality, communities

Diane Rosenberg is executive director of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, where this commentary first appeared.

An Executive Order that directs state agencies to reduce rules and regulations threatens the ability of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’(DNR) to protect communities and waterways. Governor Kim Reynolds signed Executive Order Number Ten on January 11, putting a moratorium on administrative rulemaking and requires every agency, board, or commission to conduct a comprehensive overhaul of the Iowa Administrative Code.

The order’s purpose is to provide a more fertile ground for job growth and private sector development.

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Blind Iowans denounce governor's plan for state agency

Second in a series analyzing Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to restructure state government.

Blind Iowans showed up in large numbers at the state capitol on February 13 to speak out against one part of Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to reorganize state government.

A common thread running through the bill, numbered House Study Bill 126 and Senate Study Bill 1123, is giving the governor more power to hire and fire the few state government leadership positions that have some independence under existing law.

The relevant section would give Reynolds power to appoint the director of the Iowa Department for the Blind, a position that the Iowa Commission for the Blind has long filled. The director would serve at the pleasure of the governor, so Reynolds could fire the person at any time, for any reason.

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Governor's plan would gut independence of Iowa Consumer Advocate

First in a series analyzing Governor Kim Reynolds’ plan to restructure state government.

Attorney General Brenna Bird would gain direct control over the office charged with representing Iowa consumers on issues related to utilities, under Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposed restructuring of state government.

House Study Bill 126, which lays out the governor’s plan over more than 1,500 pages, contains several provisions undermining the independence of the Office of Consumer Advocate. Iowa House State Government Committee chair Jane Bloomingdale introduced the legislation on February 1.

The Office of Consumer Advocate’s mission is to represent consumers on issues relating to gas and electric utilities and telecommunications services, “with the goal of maintaining safe, reliable, reasonably-priced, and nondiscriminatory utility services.” Much of the office’s work involves matters before the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy.

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Iowa GOP trifecta dropped the ball with vets

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

In politics, having a “trifecta” in government is a good thing for a political party—until the trifecta’s inaction on some popular issue starts to haunt those in power.

Iowa Republicans served up an example of the consequences of such inaction in the days leading up to Christmas. This story involves military veterans, a highly sought-after constituency that is part of any solid political movement.

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Best of Bleeding Heartland's original reporting in 2022

As the new year begins, I want to highlight some of the investigative reporting, in-depth analysis, and accountability journalism published first or exclusively here.

Some newspapers and websites put their best original reporting behind a paywall for subscribers, or limit access to a few free articles a month. I’m committed to keeping all Bleeding Heartland content—which includes some 570 articles and commentaries from 2022 alone—available to all, regardless of ability to pay.

As always, I’m grateful for readers who value this kind of work on Iowa politics. Tips on stories that may be worth pursuing are always welcome.

To receive links to Bleeding Heartland articles and commentaries directly via email, subscribe to the free Evening Heartland newsletter. Subscribers to my Substack (which is also free) receive audio files and recaps for every episode of KHOI Radio’s “Capitol Week,” a 30-minute program on which Dennis Hart and I discuss recent Iowa political news.

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Iowa GOP establishment abandons state auditor candidate

When Governor Kim Reynolds made news in May by pleading with supporters to help her get her “own” attorney general and a state auditor who wouldn’t scrutinize her actions, Republican Party of Iowa state chair Jeff Kaufmann defended the appeal. In a written statement, Kaufmann said the governor “should be promoting Republican candidates up and down the ticket,” because “Iowans know how worthless our current state auditor, state treasurer and attorney general have been.”

But since Mary Ann Hanusa (the insiders’ pick for state auditor) unexpectedly lost the GOP primary in June, top Iowa Republicans have done virtually nothing to support the party’s nominee Todd Halbur. He goes into the home stretch of the campaign with little money or media exposure. Meanwhile, the incumbent Rob Sand is on track to spend more than a million dollars on various forms of advertising.

Halbur did not respond to phone or email messages seeking comment on the lack of support from his party, and whether it’s related to the whistleblower lawsuit he filed, naming one of Reynolds’ appointees.

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Exclusive: Labor relations board shifts staff, cases to other agency. Is it legal?

Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) is transferring most of its staff and caseload to the state Department of Inspections and Appeals.

Since the mid-1970s, PERB members and administrative law judges have adjudicated labor disputes within state and local government or school districts. Following the changes, administrative law judges now working for PERB will handle other matters, while other employees at Inspections and Appeals will hear cases that were previously in PERB’s jurisdiction.

State officials have not announced the changes, which are scheduled to take effect on September 30. It’s not clear who initiated or authorized the plan. Staff in the governor’s office and Department of Inspections and Appeals did not respond to any of Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries over the past three weeks. PERB members Erik Helland and Cheryl Arnold likewise did not reply to several emails.

State Senator Nate Boulton, a Democrat with extensive experience as a labor attorney, has asked Attorney General Tom Miller for an official opinion on whether “it is an illegal shift of an essential PERB duty” to assign its responsibilities “to an unrelated state agency.”

Boulton also asked Miller to weigh in on the legality of Governor Kim Reynolds’ recent appointments to PERB. As Bleeding Heartland previously reported, Reynolds has circumvented the Senate confirmation process by keeping one of the three PERB positions unfilled, so she can name her preferred candidates to a vacant slot while the legislature is not in session.

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Ongoing transparency problems in Iowa's GOP-controlled government

Doris J. Kelley is a former member of the Iowa House and former Iowa Board of Parole Chair, Vice-Chair and Executive Director.

When former Republican Governor Terry Branstad signed executive order 85 in March 2014, he stated, “transparency provides Iowans the necessary access to information to hold our government accountable and our Open Records Act is essential to ensuring openness,” adding, “Our administration has maintained a steadfast commitment to a transparent government.”

Branstad held weekly press briefings to answer journalists’ questions.

However, when Kim Reynolds became governor in 2017, a few months after Republicans gained full control of the legislature, transparency went out the window. Accessing many kinds of government data has become more difficult.

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Governor appoints board member Iowa Senate already rejected

In another end run around the Iowa Senate confirmation process, Governor Kim Reynolds has named Cheryl Arnold to serve on Iowa’s Public Relations Board (PERB), which adjudicates labor disputes within state and local government or school districts.

The governor’s office has not publicly announced the nomination, and at this writing, the board’s website lists only one member (Erik Helland) on what Iowa law designates as a three-person board. Reynolds informed Secretary of the Iowa Senate Charlie Smithson about Arnold’s appointment in a letter dated August 15, which Smithson provided to Bleeding Heartland.

Arnold previously served as chair of the PERB for a little more than a year. She left the position after Iowa Senate Democrats voted against her nomination near the end of the 2020 legislative session. Appointments subject to Senate confirmation need a two-thirds vote for approval, giving Democrats the power to block nominations while in the minority.

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Governor still using public funds to promote herself at Iowa State Fair

More than four years after signing into law a ban on using public funds to promote the name, likeness, or voice of Iowa’s statewide elected officials in a “paid exhibit display at the Iowa state fair,” Governor Kim Reynolds continues to spend part of her office budget on an Iowa State Fair booth plastered with her name and picture.

Neither the Republican-controlled legislature nor the state board charged with enforcing the self-promotion law have taken any steps to remedy the situation.

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Iowa gives too little attention to elder care

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.

People in the health care field have worked their tails off since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Iowa with a vengeance in 2020.

Doctors, nurses, and all manner of technicians and support staff have performed heroically under circumstances that often were trying.

But the death this year of a patient at a Centerville care center has struck a chord with many Iowans — and not just because COVID claimed another life. The reaction has ranged from sadness to anger because the person’s treatment was unprofessional, uncaring and incompetent, if not bordering on criminal.

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Governor still playing musical chairs with employment board

For a second straight year, Governor Kim Reynolds has reappointed Erik Helland to Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) after Helland failed to win Iowa Senate confirmation. In an apparent effort to circumvent the legally required confirmation process, Reynolds appointed Helland to a different position on the three-member board, which adjudicates labor disputes within state and local government or school districts.

She used the same maneuver last summer to name Helland as PERB chair after the Iowa Senate did not confirm him during the 2021 legislative session.

The governor has not filled the now-vacant position of PERB chair, saying in a recent letter to the top Iowa Senate staffer that her administration “has initiated, but has not yet completed, the selection process.” That leaves the board with no quorum; Reynolds has kept one position unfilled since August 2020.

The long-running vacancy allows the governor’s preferred nominees to remain on the board, even if they don’t receive a two-thirds confirmation vote in the state Senate. Asked for comment on Helland’s reappointment, the Democratic senators who reviewed the PERB nominees accused the governor of “a partisan power grab” and “rigging the appointment process so she can get her way.”

Reynolds’ spokesperson Alex Murphy did not respond to eight inquiries about the PERB appointments between late May and July 28.

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Should Iowans finance more government secrecy? No, but...

Herb Strentz discusses the disappointing work of the Iowa Public Information Board, which was created ten years ago to enforce the state’s open meetings and records laws.

Question: Should “We the people” of Iowa pay for our government not telling us what it is doing?

Answer: The question is rhetorical, because we already do so—even though as a matter of principle and given the intent of Iowa’s Sunshine laws, we should not.

The center of this Q&A is the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB). When created in 2012, after years of work with state lawmakers, the board was heralded. The concept was, challenges to government secrecy would be subject to quick, inexpensive answers. No need to hire a lawyer to represent your concerns.

But two good commentaries illustrate how those dreams were more like delusions.

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Board to scrap proposed open records rules, for now

UPDATE: The Iowa Public Information Board voted on August 18 not to proceed with these draft rules. They may look at open records rules again in the future but did not schedule a date for beginning the process. Original post follows.

The Iowa Public Information Board will not move forward with proposed administrative rules regarding open records requests, the board’s executive director Margaret Johnson told members of the Iowa legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee on July 19. Instead, the board’s rules committee will consider feedback next month and put the matter on the agenda for the full board’s September meeting.

Board members have not yet determined whether to let the proposed rule die by taking no action, or whether to post a formal notice of termination. Nor have they decided whether to draft a new version of open records rules after scrapping their first effort.

Johnson said the board had heard from eight speakers at a public hearing on July 11 and received nineteen written comments on the draft rule. (Board staff provided copies of those comments to Bleeding Heartland.)

When summarizing for state lawmakers the criticism the information board received, Johnson did not mention transparency advocates’ concerns about language that would create new excuses for officials wanting to delay providing records. Rather, she highlighted three objections offered by those representing government bodies.

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Transparency advocates sound alarm about draft open records rules

Longtime advocates for access to public records in Iowa expressed concern this week about new administrative rules proposed by the Iowa Public Information Board.

The draft rules would spell out requirements for acknowledging and responding “promptly” to public records requests, but would also create a new excuse for government bodies that fail to provide timely access to records. Nothing in Iowa’s open records statute, known as Chapter 22, authorizes the board’s proposed language on “unforeseen circumstances,” nor is that concept consistent with Iowa Supreme Court precedent.

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Welcome to Iowa, land of entrapment

Carl Olsen is the founder of Iowans for Medical Marijuana.

If you have travel plans this summer, you might want to consider a route that avoids Iowa.  Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court denied protection for an out-of-state medical marijuana patient.

William Morris covered the ruling for the Des Moines Register, and Paul Brennan wrote about it at Little Village.

After reading the 4-3 majority opinion in State v. Middlekauff, I felt something seemed amiss. 

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Six terrible bills Iowa Republicans didn't pass in 2022

After a hectic two days at the capitol, the Iowa House and Senate finished their work for the year shortly after midnight on May 25.

In the coming days, Bleeding Heartland will cover some of the final bills in detail. As usual, there were a few surprises in the “standings” bill, such as a provision expanding open enrollment from public schools. While Democrats opposed many bills sent to Governor Kim Reynolds this week, including a ban on COVID-19 vaccine requirements for schools or child care centers, they welcomed one of the last-minute proposals, which exempts diapers and period products from Iowa’s sales tax.

This piece will focus on bills that didn’t make it through, despite a push from Reynolds or top Republican lawmakers.

I anticipate future legislative battles over most if not all of these proposals. Earlier this year, the governor signed into law two priority items that failed to advance in 2021: a measure banning transgender Iowans from girls’ and women’s sports, and deep cuts to unemployment benefits.

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Key state financial report four months late, not near completion

More than four months after the usual publication date of December 31, Iowa’s Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2021 is nowhere in sight.

It’s the second straight year that the detailed report on state finances is far behind schedule. The ACFR must be completed before many other annual audits of state government entities can be conducted.

For decades, Iowa routinely published the report within six months of the end of the previous fiscal year. That time frame earned the state a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the leading organization for government finance officers.

CAUSE OF DELAY STILL UNCLEAR

The report for fiscal year 2020 was delayed for about nine months, mostly because of accounting problems at Iowa State University. But the university told Bleeding Heartland in January that ISU “submitted all year-end financials, responded to audit questions and completed recommended changes for the final financial statements by Nov. 12, 2021.” That’s only about six weeks after the deadline for most state government entities to send fiscal year-end data to the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.

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Senator: State withholds info on sexual harassment complaints

Iowa’s human resources agency will not release certain statistics on pending sexual harassment or hostile workplace complaints involving state government employees, Democratic State Senator Janet Petersen revealed this week.

Speaking to fellow senators on April 25, Petersen expressed concern about how many complaints continue to be filed, despite Governor Kim Reynolds’ stated “zero tolerance” policy on harassment.

She said the Department of Administrative Services told her there are 199 pending cases but refused to break down the numbers by type of complaint or class of employee affected. Senators have not even been told whether any of Reynolds’ nominees or appointed agency directors have been the subject of a workplace environment investigation.

Petersen also faulted the DAS for not informing those who initiate cases about the agency’s findings.

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Iowa's flat tax may mean fewer public services

Randy Richardson: Everyone likes paying lower taxes until they realize they may not receive the same benefits from the government.

Americans hate taxes. Other countries have taxes, including some with much higher tax rates, but for some reason their citizens don’t have the same objections as their American counterparts.

There are a variety of reasons for this, but one of the most common is that many Americans are simply unaware of what government does for them. A 2008 Cornell Survey Research Institute poll showed that 57 percent of respondents said they had never participated in a government social program. However, 94 percent of these same respondents reported being the beneficiary of at least one federal government program, with the average participant benefiting from four of them.

Which brings me to the recently enacted flat income tax bill in Iowa.

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Federal auditors reviewing CARES Act funds for governor's staff salaries

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing documentation provided to justify Governor Kim Reynolds’ use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to compensate staff in her office, Deputy Inspector General Richard Delmar told Bleeding Heartland on March 14.

The State Auditor’s office concluded in November and reaffirmed this month that Reynolds used $448,449 in CARES Act funds to pay part of the salaries and benefits of 21 permanent staffers between March and June 2020 in order to “cover a budget shortfall that was not a result of the pandemic.” State Auditor Rob Sand called on Reynolds to return the money to Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund before the end of 2021. The governor’s office has insisted its use of COVID-19 relief funds for staff salaries was justified.

When the State Auditor’s office published its findings in November, Delmar told Bleeding Heartland his office “has not initiated an audit of the Governor’s Office salaries and awaits resolution of this matter between the Iowa State Auditor and the Governor’s Office.”

Asked this week about the impasse between Reynolds and state auditors, Delmar confirmed via email, “We have requested documentation of the uses from the State Auditor’s Office and are in the process of reviewing it.”

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Exclusive: Governor was comped state building for SOTU response

Governor Kim Reynolds delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union from a government building terrace that is currently closed for rentals, and her office paid nothing to use the space.

The governor’s spokesperson Alex Murphy confirmed on March 2 that Reynolds gave the speech from the State Historical Building terrace. Five days and several emails later, Murphy confirmed the building “did not charge a fee for the Governor’s use of the space.”

Communications staff for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs did not respond to messages over the past week seeking to clarify who approved the unusual arrangement for the governor.

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Iowa's annual financial report late again; agencies mum on why

For the second straight year, the state of Iowa missed a deadline for releasing a detailed report on state finances. Officials publicly acknowledged the delay last week but have not explained why the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report for fiscal year 2021 is not complete.

Staff at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, which compiles this report, have not responded to five inquiries from Bleeding Heartland about the matter over the past two weeks. Staff at the Iowa Department of Management, which prepared a public notice about the late report, likewise ignored three attempts to clarify the source of the problem.

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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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Governor will struggle to justify CARES Act funds for staff salaries

Governor Kim Reynolds used $448,449 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover a shortfall in her office budget without documenting that 21 of her staffers were “substantially dedicated” to the pandemic response, a state audit determined.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General asked state auditors in January 2021 to review whether the spending complied with rules governing the use of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. Bleeding Heartland was first to report in September 2020 on CARES Act payments supporting the governor’s permanent staffers, and reported exclusively last December on how documents were altered to make a “FY 2020 Shortfall” in the governor’s office budget appear to be “COVID-19 Personnel Costs.”

State Auditor Rob Sand warned the Reynolds administration in October 2020 that without adequate documentation, COVID-19 relief funds used to pay governor’s staff salaries might need to be repaid to the federal government. The report issued this week advised the governor to return the money to Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund “for other eligible and supported uses prior to the December 31, 2021 deadline.”

The governor’s spokesperson Alex Murphy told reporters the office is “now working with Treasury to provide them documentation” to support the CARES Act spending.

That’s easier said than done.

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New "reemployment" plan won't solve Iowa workforce shortage

“We want to get Iowans back to work!” Governor Kim Reynolds tweeted on October 20, touting a new business grant program financed through the American Rescue Plan, which she used to denounce as a “blue state bailout.”

But there was more: “We also announced a new reemployment case management system to refocus Iowa’s unemployment system and ensure Iowans can get back to work as quickly as possible.”

That’s a creative way of saying Reynolds plans to push more Iowans into available jobs by making it harder for them to collect unemployment benefits. However, the policy changes the governor announced at her latest news conference won’t address several important reasons many Iowans remain out of the workforce.

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State issues key financial report, nine months late

More than nine months behind schedule, the state of Iowa has released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2020. The report was posted to the Iowa Department of Administrative Services website on October 5.

Under normal circumstances, the state would have published this report in late December 2020. However, Iowa State University has had significant accounting problems since switching to the Workday computer system for financials at the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year. State government entities typically submit their fiscal year-end financials to the state by October 1, but ISU was still sending supplemental pieces six months later.

Deputy State Auditor Marlys Gaston told the Iowa Board of Regents last month that state auditors anticipated sending an internal control letter to ISU regarding misstatements or erroneous information in some of the university’s financial statements.

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Governor taps American Rescue Plan for IT project predating pandemic

UPDATE: In November 2023, a spokesperson for OCIO told Bleeding Heartland, “OCIO never executed a contract for Master Data Management in any RFP.” She did not explain why the project was shelved. However, it appears that the American Rescue Plan funds allocated for this project were not spent for that purpose. In December 2023, the spokesperson confirmed, “Master Data Management has not moved forward since October 2021.” Original post follows.

Governor Kim Reynolds has allocated $13 million from the state’s American Rescue Plan funds for a data project that has been in the works since 2019.

Last year, the governor approved a request from the state’s Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to pay for the Master Data Management Program with $13 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But those funds were never spent, according to pandemic spending reports and documents obtained through public records requests.

OCIO recently transferred the $13 million earmarked for the data management project back to the agency that administers Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, spokesperson Cayanna Reinier told Bleeding Heartland on September 29. She added that OCIO is “in the process of restarting” the project and “looking forward to moving ahead” with it, now that the governor’s office has approved the use of American Rescue Plan funds.

It’s far from clear this program is an eligible expense under the latest federal relief package.

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Health agency hiring temporary help with public records requests

The Iowa Department of Public Health is hiring a temporary staffer to assist public information officer Sarah Ekstrand in processing open records requests. The job listing says the new hire will help review and update the agency’s system for tracking requests, communicate with members of the public about the status of requests, help refine search terms, provide cost estimates, and review documents to see if they can be withheld as confidential.

The application deadline for the position was September 16. The temporary hire will be paid between $26.61 and $40.50 an hour, for at most 780 hours of work in the current fiscal year. That works out to about 20 weeks of full-time efforts devoted to processing records requests between now and June 30, 2022.

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Exclusive: Other agencies covered $900K in governor's office costs

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office was able to spend nearly 40 percent more than its $2.3 million budget appropriation during the last fiscal year, mostly by shifting personnel costs onto other state agencies.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show that eight state agencies covered $812,420.83 in salaries and benefits for nine employees in the governor’s office from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. In addition, the Office for State-Federal Relations in Washington, DC remained understaffed, as it has been throughout Reynolds’ tenure. The vacant position should allow roughly $85,000 in unspent funds to be used to balance the rest of the governor’s office budget, as happened last year.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four inquiries over the past two weeks related to the office budget. But records indicate that unlike in 2020, federal COVID-19 relief funds will not be tapped to cover salaries for Reynolds’ permanent staffers in fiscal year 2021.

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Iowa House district 37 preview: Mike Bousselot vs. Andrea Phillips

Republicans nominated Iowa Department of Management Director Michael Bousselot this weekend to be their candidate in the September 14 special election to represent Iowa House district 37. Bousselot received about 75 percent of the vote on the first ballot; one of his two rivals for the nomination withdrew his candidacy before convention delegates voted.

Bousselot did not respond to phone or email messages on August 13 asking whether he would take a leave of absence from his day job, assuming he won the GOP nomination for the special election. But he and Democratic candidate Andrea Phillips are clearly ready to devote substantial time and energy to the abbreviated campaign.

House district 37 was among the most expensive state legislative races in 2020; Democrats spent nearly $800,000 on behalf of Phillips, while Republicans spent about $575,000 defending State Representative John Landon, who passed away in late July.

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