DES MOINES — A bipartisan plan to establish a state-run facility for delinquent girls is an attempt to “lower the temperature” around the debate.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, acknowledged, however, that “people still have their backs up a little bit” over the issue that erupted when Republican Gov. Terry Branstad closed the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo last month.
The plan approved by a Senate Human Resources subcommittee Thursday may cause temperatures to spike in Toledo because Senate File 2084 would not require the Iowa Juvenile Home to be in that Tama County community.
“That’s very concerning. That’s disconcerting if they are removing the word ‘Toledo’ from the code,” Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin, who represents Toledo, said Wednesday.
Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said the plan to remove location from the discussion is an attempt to “calm this thing down.”
Tensions have been high since Branstad closed the home after two investigations revealed the use of restraints and seclusion that outside groups said violated state law. A district court judge sided with Democratic lawmakers and the president of the union representing juvenile home employees, who sued to force Republican Gov. Terry Branstad to reopen the home. He’s appealing the decision.
“I’m glad to see that location, location, location is not going to be an issue here,” said Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, who is working with Dotzler. “It’s serving these young girls that’s the issue.”
Bolkcom thinks there is consensus that the state needs a secure facility for a small population of delinquent girls, “more of a correctional function than a group home.”
Although he thinks it is helpful to set aside the location issue, Bolkcom didn’t rule out using the Toledo campus in the future.
“We have an investment at the Iowa Juvenile Home,” he said. “It needs some significant modernization to make it work there.”
He noted the state owns other facilities around the state that may be a more appropriate setting for a future Iowa Juvenile Home.
“At this point, we want to get the program right and get the details around what we’re going to do,” Bolkcom said. “As part of that, we’ll have to figure out the location.”
In a meeting with the Quad-City Times Editorial Board, Branstad had little encouragement for Toledo.
“It doesn’t make sense to use an institution designed to 19th century standards to serve kids in the 21st century,” he said. Branstad noted Iowa has private homes and shelters “that are accredited. The home was not accredited.”
In the meantime, Branstad said, he’s working directly with his task force and Disability Rights Iowa for a response that better protects young Iowans.
Bolkcom said senators have sought a meeting with the governor’s office “to sit down and continue to work on it.”