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Iowa House sends budgets totalling more than $750 million to Senate

James Q. Lynch, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

DES MOLINES – The Iowa House began the long slog through floor debate on budget bills Feb. 28, approving budgets for the Judicial Branch and justice systems, economic development and ag and natural resources after nearly 9.5 hours.

Four Republicans defected from the majority party’s $156 million budget for the Judicial Branch not because they shared Democrats’ concern with the status quo budget. Instead their votes were meant to highlight what they call unconstitutional actions by the Iowa Supreme Court and “rule of law” concerns they have stemming from the 2009 Varnum v. Brien, the court’s 7-0 decision striking down the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage.

Without their votes, House File 2338, the Judicial branch budget was approved 54-43.

Ideally, Rep. Dwayne Alons, R-Hull, would like to see the four justices who participated in the unanimous Varnum decision impeached like three justices were in 2010. His vote, he said, was to keep the issue in front of lawmakers and voters who will get a chance to vote on retaining of Justice David Wiggins this fall.

Alons was joined by Rep. Tom Shaw of Laurens, Kim Pearson of Pleasant Hill and Glen Massie of Des Moines. Massie and Pearson have said they plan to vote against all budget bills to protest increases in spending.

Floor manager Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, called the justice systems and Judicial Branch budgets “austere … very conservative.”

“We believe this is where we have to start from to get to a budget that works for the people of the state of Iowa,” Worthan said.

In addition to the $156 million appropriation, the budget requires the Judicial Brach to make an effort to collect delinquent fines, expresses legislative intent that clerks of court offices will remain open in all 99 counties and be open to the public “as much as reasonably possible.”

It also requires the Judicial Branch to get bids from Iowa Prison Industries for office furniture purchases of more than $5,000.

The justice systems budget appropriates $504 million — $2 million less than the current budget and $16 million less than Branstad’s proposal, Worthan said.

Among the reductions were: the Attorney General’s Office, $1.2 million; Civil Rights Commission, $130,000; $171,000 at Ft. Madison due to the transfer of two FTEs to Iowa Prison Industries; transfer one FTE and $123,000 from Clarinda to Oakdale to save $38,000; and a reduction of five FTEs in the Department of Public Safety for the gaming enforcement Division that are funded from the gaming enforcement fund.

The bill was amended 99-0 to call for the departments of Corrections and Human Services to designate a facility for prisoners in a transitional release program or discharged from a program for sexually violent predators who at the current time may be placed in nursing homes.

The bill was approved and sent to the Senate on a 69-30 vote.

Representatives voted 55-40 to approve HF 2337, the $29,095,102 economic development budget that includes funds for the departments of Cultural Affairs, Economic Development, Workforce Development and the Public Employee Relations Board. That’s a $7.1 million reduction from the current budget.

An amendment by Reps. Dave Jacoby of Coralville, Lisa Heddens of Ames, Bob Kressig of Cedar Falls and Anesa Kajtazovic of Waterloo to restore $1.8 million in funds for research activities at the three regent universities was rejected. They argued those research activities attract students and benefit private businesses.

HF 2337 also moves the state film office from economic development to the Department of Cultural Affairs, but budgets $250,000 less than Gov. Terry Branstad proposed; reduces funding for the governor’s Economic Development Authority by $965,000, but appropriates $1 million for his Employee Stock Ownership program; does not increase the $25,000 appropriation to the World Food Prize.

And the House approved HF 2336, the ag and natural resources budget 57-42. It approved $5.7 million from the general fund for the departments of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Natural Resources, and the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Iowa State University. That’s an increase of $3.4 million from the general fund. However, the $67.5 million from the Environment First Fund and the fish and game trust fund is a decrease of $2 million from other funds.

Among the changes was an increase of $118,000 and two FTEs for gas pump inspectors to increase inspection of pumps at gas stations, said floor manager Rep. Jack Drake, R-Griswold.

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