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AFSCME calls for special Iowa legislative session

Line-item vetoes combined with a lack of leadership by Gov. Terry Branstad have resulted in unmanageable situations for Iowa families, the unemployed and prison inmates and staff, a state union leader asserted Wednesday afternoon while calling on lawmakers to demand a special session to deal with the ongoing fallout.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/danny_homan_125.jpgDanny Homan

“The recent actions of Iowa Workforce Development, and now the Department of Corrections have shown that the Iowa Legislature needs to return to session to ensure that our state is doing the job it has promised to its citizens. While Iowa Republicans have said that they were not in favor of returning for a special session because there weren’t enough important issues to deal with, there are important reasons that a special session is needed, and as soon as possible,” Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, said as part of a prepared statement.

He again noted that Iowa correctional workers are suffering from understaffing, and revealed several new instructions, given by Director John Baldwin, that have been relayed from workers on the ground.

According to Homan, in the past 24 hours workers have reported:

  • No more overtime will be approved to cover shifts where staffing is critically low.
  • At the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, day and night shifts are running below critical numbers necessary to operate the prison safely. Correctional workers have been told that management is not sure how long this situation will last.
  • At the Clarinda Correctional Facility, they are operating with no responders on duty. Gang activity is through the roof. Assaults and use of force has doubled in the past year, with fewer staff than ever.
  • At the already understaffed Anamosa State Penitentiary, management has had to eliminate six officers from their second shift.
  • At institutions that for security reasons we cannot name, our security systems are ”falling apart,” antiquated and need updating.
  • In at least two institutions, there will be non-essential trainings conducted regardless of the overtime required or cost, while overtime for shifts are being denied.

The Iowa Independent requested comment from the Iowa Department of Corrections on these assertions, including the validity and nature of the increased “gang activity” at Clarinda, and was told that all responses were being directed to Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Branstad. A request has also been made to Albrecht, who indicated a response would be forthcoming.

Democratic lawmakers have said they would like the two chambers to return to Des Moines for the purposes of over-riding Branstad’s veto of a bipartisan plan to keep more than 30 Iowa Workforce Development offices open, which amounts to nearly two-thirds of all IWD offices statewide. Homan said such closures disproportionately impact rural Iowans and those struggling to find work.

“[The veto] went against the wishes of both parties in both chambers,” Homan noted.

Republican lawmakers have countered that any special session must address not only the IWD closures but key Branstad initiatives such as property tax reform, education reform and deregulation.

“In letters sent to landlords of the properties in question, Branstad has said that the reason these offices were closed was because the Legislature didn’t fund them, a statement that is highly debatable,” Homan added.

“There is no excuse for allowing these issues to go unresolved. As I’ve said before, we as a state do not have a revenue crisis. Iowa has a one billion dollar surplus. If we do not act as a state, I am extremely worried that the public, correctional workers and the working families who depend on Iowa Workforce Development are going to be hurt. In fact, in our correctional institutions I believe it is only a matter of time before something very serious happens. The Legislature must reconvene for a special session, and inaction by the Governor or Republican Legislative leaders I believe could have serious consequences unlike anyone can imagine.”

As The Iowa Independent previously reported, AFSCME and the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, had harsh reactions to several line-item vetoes by Branstad in various state appropriations bills. In addition to scraping the plan to prevent the IWD office closures, the Governor also cut a 3 percent tax relief increase for low-income working Iowa families.

Following outrage over those vetoes, Branstad also cut portions of the judiciary appropriations bill that were aimed at preventing the Iowa Department of Corrections from entering into private contracts in excess of $100,000 without first alerting existing employees and legislative leadership. Reasons for the vetoes have ranged from the Legislative intent placing too high of an onus on state department heads to, in the case of the tax cuts, the Legislature refusing a more comprehensive approach that would have also provided breaks to businesses.

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