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Oversight Committee prepares ‘comprehensive response’ to Branstad scandals

This news story was published on April 22, 2014.
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Janet Petersen, State Senator

Janet Petersen, State Senator

DES MOINES – State Senator Janet Petersen of Des Moines, chair of the Senate Government Oversight Committee, released today the outline of a legislative response to the problems revealed so far by the Branstad scandals, including hush money, questionable hiring practices, and the treatment of whistleblowers.

“Our bipartisan investigations have already revealed serious shortcomings when it comes to state government accountability,” said Petersen, a leader of the legislative investigations which led Governor Branstad to fire Iowa Department of Administrative Services Director Mike Carroll. “This is a comprehensive response to what we’ve learned.”

Petersen said that when compared to legislation already approved by the Iowa House, the legislation she has introduced in the Senate addresses more of the root causes of the rash of scandals linked to the Branstad Administration.  She said the key points of her legislation, Senate Study Bill 3221, will:

  • Governor Branstad

    Governor Branstad

    Ban secret settlements and hush money payments in all of state government

  • Expand protections for state employees and others who have the courage to blow the whistle on wrongful activity
  • Require the State Auditor to investigate previous secret settlements
  • Prevent sweetheart, no bid contracts
  • Outlaw cronyism in the hiring state employees
  • Mandate disclosure of state worker bonuses
  • Restrict, reform and establish due process in the use of the state “do-not-hire” list (database)

“We’ve watched a governor determined to have things his own way and go around our state’s checks and balances,” said Petersen. “The results aren’t pretty and aren’t in the best interest of Iowans. We need more sunshine, more accountability, more whistleblower protections and a solid rededication to clean government, something Iowans value and strongly support.”

Petersen said she hopes the House and Senate will agree on her more comprehensive, tougher approach before the end of the 2014 session.

To address the shortcomings in the House File 2462, the Senate Bill provides for the following:

1.      Codifies key elements of Branstad Executive Order 85 and go further by applying it to “all branches of government.”

2.      Requires State Auditor to review the personnel settlement agreements with terminated state employees, especially the agreements made outside of normal channels since January 2011. A report on the results of the examination shall be submitted to the general assembly by December 1, 2014.

3.      Increase taxpayer protections against cronyism and self-dealing by (1) requiring contracts to comply with the Iowa Code; (2) requiring a cost comparison before outside contractors are hired in order to make sure they cost less than using state government employees; and, (3) creating a searchable budget database internet site.

4.      Requires all state positions at all branches of government, for all employee categories – including at-will, confidential, and merit – to be openly advertised.

5.      Reforms the “do-not-hire/blacklist” to ensure notification, documentation, due process, and an appeal process.

6.      Requires transparency in bonus pay awarded to an executive branch employee in an amount over $200, including the name of the employee and the amount paid and the reasons for the bonus.

7.      Protects whistleblowers by expanding protections for employees and private contractors working on government projects with state funds. It expands protections to whistleblowers who contact any person or organization, including but not limited to the press.

8.      Requires reinstatement of the Vertical Infrastructure Council that ranks capitol construction projects in order of need.  Governor Branstad’s Executive Order 79 got rid of this important council and replaced it with five people who were in DAS leadership or represented specific interest groups.

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