AFSCME Iowa Council 61 - Every Day. Everywhere. Making Iowa Better.

Legislative Update: January 20, 2015

Legislature Convenes
The 85th General Assembly began last week. The current legislature is split - the House majority is Republican (57 to 43); the Senate is controlled by Democrats (26-24). This once again leaves the Iowa Senate as the important firewall to block anti-worker legislation. Split control means any legislation or funding will require support from both Democrats and Republicans to become law.

Condition of the State
On the second day of session, Governor Branstad delivered his Condition of the State speech. Three of the main points of the Governor’s speech were 1) a call for more road funding (without specifics on how), 2) the continuation of his anti-bullying in schools effort, and 3) calls for increasing broadband access. Generally, the Governor’s speech this year stuck to non-controversial topics.

Governor’s Budget: Proposed closure of Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant Mental Health Institutes (MHIs)
On the same day he delivered his Condition of the State speech, Governor Branstad released his budget recommendations for FY 2016 and FY 2017.

The Governor’s Budget proposed closing Mt. Pleasant MHI and Clarinda MHI. This proposal was quietly tucked in the budget – it was not mentioned in the Governor’s Speech. This proposal was formulated in a secretive manner: the Governor did not consult with clients and their families, community leaders, employees, or AFSCME. Even legislators were taken completely by surprise. You can read a copy of our Union’s statement on the closure proposal here.

We are asking members to contact their legislators to encourage them to oppose the Governor’s proposal to close these MHIs. Here are few things to emphasize:
• We need to be expanding mental health services in all corners of the state, not closing facilities.
• Closing these two facilities will mean more families will have to travel further to see their loved ones.
• Any changes that impact the care of the most vulnerable Iowans should be made only after extensive study and plentiful opportunities for public input.

You can look up your legislators’ contact information here. Please contact your legislators using a personal phone/computer/e-mail during non-work hours from a non-work location.

This will be a major issue this legislative session and our Union will continue to vigorously advocate keeping these facilities open.

Education Funding
Governor Branstad’s budget recommended only a 0.8 percent boost in base funding for schools. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal stated that Senate Democrats are “very concerned” that this could further drop Iowa’s ranking for education funding. Iowa House Minority Leader Mark Smith called the Governor’s proposed education funding level “just wrong” and contrasted it with the 9 percent proposed increase for the Governor’s Office in the Governor’s Budget.

IWD Director Retires
On the Sunday before session began, Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert’s retirement was announced. The Governor named Civil Rights Commission Administrator Beth Townsend as the acting director of Iowa Workforce Development. Don Grove was appointed acting director of the Civil Rights Commission. After a permanent director of Iowa Workforce Development is appointed, that person will go before the Iowa Senate for confirmation.

Legislative Forums
We strongly urge members to attend their legislators’ forums. We post links to legislative forum calendars on our website. We typically update this page on Wednesday or Thursday of each week.

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