A roundup of Iowa Capitol and legislative news items:
DHS BUDGET CUTS: The head of Iowa’s Department of Human Services (DHS) said Wednesday he believes his agency will be able to absorb the $20 million in spending cuts for this fiscal year without negatively impacting staff or programs. On Tuesday, Gov. Terry Branstad directed officials in the state general fund’s second-largest budget area — behind education — to reduce spending by $20 million by June 30 as part of a plan to address an overall $110 million shortfall in the budget brought by slipping revenue growth. DHS Director Charles Palmer and his budget director, Jean Slabaugh, told members of the state’s Council on Human Services that most of the money will come from a surplus in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which has seen a drop in usage that freed up about $16 million. Slabaugh said the agency also had some unspent technology money that will forego the need for cuts in DHS operations. Of bigger concern, said Palmer, was the governor’s fiscal 2018 budget request that was about $25 million under his agency’s $1.88 billion request to the Legislature.
MORE BUDGET ADJUSTMENTS: Officials in the state agencies responsible for public safety and corrections say they are reviewing the reductions proposed by Gov. Terry Branstad for the remainder of the current fiscal year but have not made final decisions on how to proceed. Branstad presented up to $110 million in proposed de-appropriations to the Legislature that included $15 million in cuts to the Iowa Department of Corrections and $3.8 million for the Iowa Department of Public Safety. “We are weighing all available options and will share additional information when it is available,” said corrections spokesman Fred Scaletta. Alex Murphy, public information officer for the DPS commissioner’s office, said the governor’s proposed cuts were expected but the department’s executive leadership has not yet made final decisions as to where reductions will be made. “At this time, we do not foresee any layoffs or furloughs within our department,” Murphy said. “For the remainder of this fiscal year, we will not be hiring for any openings within our department that are funded through our general appropriations fund and we will not be moving forward with any promotions. The department is very optimistic about holding the next DPS Basic Academy in fiscal year 2018.” He said the agency is looking at options that will have the least impact on citizens while maintaining safety.
ENDING UNIVERSITY TENURE: A state senator again has filed a bill seeking to end the tenure system for professors or other eligible employees at Iowa’s three regent universities. Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, has offered the bill before but this year Senate File 41 may get more attention he is a member of the majority party in the Iowa Senate. The bill directs the state Board of Regents to prohibit the establishment or continuation of a tenure system for any employee of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa State University in Ames and the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. S.F. 41 also states that an Iowa code provision which authorizes community college administrations to establish quality faculty planning committees shall not be construed to authorize a community college to establish a tenure system for any employees. The bill also provides that acceptable grounds for termination of employment of any member of a regent university’s faculty “shall include but not be limited to just cause, program discontinuance and financial exigency.”
EDUCATION KICKOFF: The Senate Education Committee opened its 2017 run Wednesday with new chairwoman Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, pledging to move quickly to pass a new allotment of supplemental state aid to Iowa’s K-12 school districts. Sinclair said district administrators should not be “left in the lurch” concerning their fiscal 2018 funding level. Gov. Terry Branstad proposed a 2 percent boost for each of the next two fiscal years during his Condition of the State address Tuesday but Sinclair was noncommittal on an amount at Wednesday’s kickoff committee meeting, saying only the amount “probably won’t be as much as they want.” She also said she is interested in expanding school choice options for parents this session. Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, past chairman and now ranking member, said he hoped K-12 funding, third-grade reading, preschool access, rural district transportation costs, anti-bullying efforts, reducing high-school dropout rates, and addressing per-pupil funding disparities among districts all would get attention this year. Independent Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan was granted unanimous consent to address the committee as a nonvoting member and asked other senators to consider joining him in “tri-partisan” cooperation in a policy area where he has 18 years of experience.
AWARD FOR DHS ADMINISTRATOR: Wendy Rickman, the administrator of the Adult, Children and Family Services Division for the Iowa Department of Human Services, has been selected as a recipient of a distinguished national award that honors leaders for their dedication to improving the lives of children and families. Rickman, a licensed social worker who joined DHS in 1987, this week was presented the 2017 Casey Excellence for Children Award in Leadership, which recognizes achievements in improving outcomes, which include safely reducing the need for foster case, increasing pathways to permanency and improving child well-being. Under Rickman, Iowa has developed several initiatives aimed at strengthening families and improving outcomes for children. Over the past five years, Iowa has experienced an overall reduction of 6 percent in the number of children in foster care.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Mr. Chairman, would it be in order to adjourn for the year?” – Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, in addressing the Senate Labor Committee, which is expected to be the venue for proposed changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law this session that could become contentious.
Times Bureau staff