Iowa governor rebukes union leader for alleging he violated the state constitution
A labor union leader and top Democratic lawmakers are alleging Gov. Terry Branstad violated the state constitution when he issued a line-item veto to shut down Iowa Workforce Development field offices.
AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan is leading the charge, with the lawsuit also listing Sen. Bill Dotzler, of Waterloo, and Reps. Dave Jacoby, of Coralville, Bruce Hunter, of Des Moines and Kristen Running-Marquardt, of Cedar Rapids.
The five allege that while Branstad was legally permitted to issue the line-item veto against legislative wishes, the money that was allocated to keep the field offices must be vetoed, too, because it cannot be redirected elsewhere. Branstad failed to veto the funding, and violated the state constitution, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Polk County District Court.
The Branstad administration blasted Homan, with Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht saying the labor leader “should know better” than to bring the suit forward and called the document “just yet another political chest thumping from Mr. Homan.”
Branstad’s alternative to the 36 field offices — many of which were open on a part-time basis — is to streamline employment assistance onto computers that can accessed at kiosks in public locations like libraries. Office closures are expected to save $7 million in the first fiscal year, according to the Governor’s Office. The 2011 General Assembly allocated $3.5 million to keep the offices operational for at least one more year while options were further studied.
There are to be more than 500 of the virtual access points statewide, with 104 currently in operation, excluding 43 computers in National Guard armories which may be accessed by veterans exclusively, IWD spokeswoman Kerry Koonce has said.
“Gov. Branstad instead chose to expand hours of operation, and place these services in more than 500 locations for the more than 100,000 unemployed Iowans,” Albrecht said. “If Danny Homan gets his way, he’ll shut down 500 workforce development access points. That’s sad, disappointing, and he should know better.”
Iowa Democrats have fought bitterly to keep the 36 field offices open since the July line-item veto. Both Democrats and Republicans expressed disappointment and frustration toward the Governor’s decision, saying the Legislature was able to come together to allocate the funding in a rare bipartisan fashion.
However, Democrats’ attempts to push a special session for the Legislature to override the veto fell flat, without a single Republican lending support to the idea.
Homan told The Iowa Independent earlier this month he believed the line-item veto to be a mistake on Branstad’s part, and the unions would not stand for it. At that point in time, Homan said his group was gathering signatures in protest of the office closures that would be submitted to Branstad.
Other labor and grassroots activist groups, including the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, indicated they, too, would consider entering the fray if lawmakers rejected a special session.
The lawsuit references Rants v. Vilsack, a 2004 case in which Republicans challenged the authority of then-Gov. Tom Vilsack to issue a line-item veto. At the heart of the earlier case was whether or not the veto struck a policy or appropriations measures — the Iowa Constitution only giving line-item veto authority for appropriations measures. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with former House Speaker Christopher Rants in that case.
Plaintiffs in the new case are arguing for a hearing or trail on the merits within 90 days of their initial filing with the court.
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