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Senate approves funding for workforce agency

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

DES MOINES – Moving with due speed, the Iowa Senate voted 48-1 Wednesday to restore status quo funding for the Iowa Workforce Development needed to keep the agency operating through June in the aftermath of a court battle recently decided by the Iowa Supreme Court.

Senate File 2324, which now goes to the House for its expected approval, would maintain the $8.67 million appropriation that the Legislature provided last session. Lawmakers are revisiting the issue in light of a unanimous court ruling earlier this month that determined Gov. Terry Branstad improperly used his item-veto authority to strip language intended to keep open 36 workforce centers that instead were closed and about 200 state employees lost their jobs in the process.

In the aftermath of the court decision, Branstad and leaders of the split-control Legislature reached an agreement to restore the vetoed money with no changes for the current fiscal year. However, Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said Democrats who hold a 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate will try to get some of the closed satellite offices reopened and maintain the current 16 regional offices and four satellites when they work with majority House Republicans and Branstad on fiscal 2013 IWD funding levels.

“That’s where we’re probably going to bang some heads,” said Dotzler. He noted that the potential for closing three more offices and up to 150 more people being laid off exists under a worst-case scenario if the House proposed funding level is adopted and there are additional cuts in federal unemployment funding and a lesser number of layoffs and office closings would occur under Branstad’s spending plan for next fiscal year.

Branstad said Tuesday that federal funds have been cut and interest on the unemployment trust fund is “down considerably so there is less money available.” He hoped the Legislature could avoid a situation similar to last year when it mandated the number of offices IWD was to maintain, but didn’t provide adequate funding – a point that Dotzler disputed.

Dotzler said Democrats want to reopen offices in Ames, Denison, Newton, Pella and other areas, and keep the Decorah office full service.

He also said they want to ensure that the services provided are quality, not just Internet based. He said right now IWD provides “worthless data” that only tracks Internet contacts and many people in rural areas have to drive considerable miles to access services. He said they’re hearing complaints from librarians that they are inundated with computer illiterate people who need labor-intensive help using the kiosks under the new arrangement.

The Waterloo Democrat said lawmakers want the Branstad administration to make a “full accounting” of where the $6.5 million they claim to have saved this fiscal year went, but so far “it’s kind of a two-step going on.”

Kerry Koonce, IWD communications director, said her agency — which is 80 percent funded with federal dollars — “was $6.5 million short” in state and federal funds needed to operate the 36 offices.

Also Wednesday, the Senate voted 49-1 to confirm former state legislator Doris Kelley as chairwoman of the Iowa Board of Parole.

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