Iowa Senate passes $560 million justice system budget

All 23 GOP senators vote against measure; believe it includes too much spending

Majority Democrats in the Iowa Senate approved a $560 million budget that would fund more prison guards and state troopers and open new prison and residential corrections facilities.

Senate File 447, which passed on a 26-23 party-line vote, would boost spending by $36.1 million in justice systems areas of corrections, public safety, public defense, human rights, civil rights, inspections and appeals, and the Department of Justice.

“A vote for this bill is a vote for public safety,” said Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, the bill’s floor manager.

However, all 23 minority GOP senators voted against the measure, partly because it only funds one fiscal year rather than provide biennial spending and partly because it spends more money than they believe is appropriate.

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said the spending level being proposed by majority Democrats is “not only reckless, but it’s feckless.”

Among the big-ticket items, S.F. 447 would boost funding for the state Department of Corrections by $23.3 million in fiscal 2014 – with $16.3 million going to maintaining or opening beds at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville and community-based corrections (CBC) facilities in Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines, Ottumwa, Sioux City and Waterloo.

The bill also would boost funding for critical staff at state prisons by $4.4 million and keep the facility at Luster Heights open.

“This bill provides the resources to the Department of Corrections to hire desperately needed staff,” Courtney said.

The $86.7 million earmarked for the state Department of Public Safety would be a $4.5 million boost that would include funding for at least 11 more Iowa State Patrol troopers – an increase in force that would help reduce emergency response times and make Iowa roads safer.

Also Wednesday, senators voted 26-23 to approve a $56 million funding level for administration and regulations areas of state government – a $3 million increase in House File 603 that bolsters the State Auditor’s Office and Iowa Public Information Board but trims the Secretary of State’s Office by $100,000. Both the justice systems and administration/regulation budget bills go to the Iowa House for consideration.

In other action, majority Senate Democrats refused to concur with a $45 million general fund appropriation for economic development that was approved by GOP representatives to control the Iowa House. The Senate previously passed a $78.5 million bill that would boost spending by 19 percent for the budget year that begins July 1, and the economic development spending area was sent to a House-Senate conference committee for negotiations.

A major sticking point to compromise will be job-creation incentives. Gov. Terry Branstad proposed $19 million for business recruitment, with the Senate offering $18 million and the House including no additional money for fiscal 2014 in their spending plan.

Members of the conference committee on Senate File 430 included Democrats Bill Dotzler of Waterloo, Rita Hart of Wheatland and Joe Seng of Davenport and Republicans Nancy Boettger of Harlan and Charles Schneider of West Des Moines from the Senate, and Republicans Deyoe of Nevada, Mary Ann Hanusa of Council Bluffs and Bobby Kaufmann of Wilton and Democrats Bob Kressig of Cedar Falls and Kristen Running-Marquardt of Cedar Rapids from the House.

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