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Iowa courts, prisons budgets get House OK
DES MOINES — The GOP-controlled House continued taking steps toward wrapping up its 2021 session as it worked through the night to approve budgets that would increase funding for the state court and prison systems as well as state law enforcement, emergency management and civil rights agencies by $44 million.
House File 861 would appropriate $619.5 million from the general fund, a $34.6 million increase, with $20 million of that earmarked for the Department of Corrections. It includes another $19 million from other state funds.
HF 864 would provide nearly $193 million to the Judicial Branch, an increase of $8.6 million.
Democrats offered amendments to address what they see as problems within the prison system. The prison population is over capacity, but there are 265 positions authorized, but unfunded positions, Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, said.
Those positions may be unfilled, but not unfunded, Justice System Appropriations Chairman Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, said. He attributed the vacancies to natural turnover in the 3,000-plus employee workforce.
There’s also been an increase in violence with inmate assaults on staff riding from 82 to 109 since 2019, Hunter said. That includes 13 serious staff injuries requiring hospitalization.
The House did vote 88-0 to adopt an amendment from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Lee Hein, R-Monticello, to create a Corrections survivor benefits fund using an annual transfer of $100,000 lottery revenue. It would be used to continue existing health insurance coverage to an eligible employee’s surviving spouse and children upon the employee’s death. A similar benefit exists for law enforcement personnel.
HF 861 was then approved 52-36 just before 1 a.m. Tuesday.
The $193.5 million Judicial Branch budget includes:
- $3.8 million to fill positions held open for budget reasons.
- $1 million for 17 additional clerks of court to bring staffing to 2.5 clerks per county so the workload can be spread between high-workload counties and those with lower workloads.
- $1.4 million for salary adjustments.
- $1.5 million for four new associate judges and staffs.
It also would allow the Iowa Supreme Court to set as annual salaries: chief justice, $192,261; associate justices, $183,653; Court of Appeals chief judge and associates, $172,175 and $166,436, respectively; judicial district chief judge, district judges and associate judges, $160,696, $154,957 and $137,740, respectively; associate juvenile judge, $137,740, associate probate judge, $137,740; judicial magistrate: $42,469; and senior judge: $9,182.
Both budgets now go to the Senate, which has agreed to approve them, Worthan said.
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