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Reynolds’ plan to reorganize Iowa state government advances
The bill still needs to pass the Iowa House, which is not expected to debate it this week
DES MOINES — A sweeping proposal to restructure the executive branch of Iowa state government took a key step toward becoming law by passing the Iowa Senate on Tuesday.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal, in the form of a nearly 1,600-page bill, was approved only by her fellow Republicans in the Senate.
Reynolds has argued that Iowa state government is overdue for restructuring, that a reorganization of this scope has not been conducted since the 1980s.
She said her proposed reorganization will make state government more efficient and responsive to Iowans, and that it can be accomplished without laying off any state workers. The governor’s office said some state positions that are currently vacant will be eliminated through attrition.
“The result will be a state government that will be aligned with the only reason that it exists, and that is to serve Iowans,” Reynolds said earlier Tuesday at the Capitol while speaking to a meeting of the Iowa Bankers Association.
Democrats have argued the proposal streamlines state government to the point where it gives the governor too much authority, and reiterated myriad concerns raised by state workers and advocates that believe some of the proposed changes will adversely impact some agencies and their services.
“(The proposal) is a power grab, plain and simple,” said Sen. Zach Wahls, the Senate Democrats’ leader from Coralville.
The bill passed the Senate on a 34-15, mostly party-line vote.
Sen. Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig who chairs the Senate’s committee on state government and has been shepherding Reynolds’ proposal through the legislative process, disputed the argument that the bill represents a power grab.
“We’re taking departments, commissions, boards, entities and placing them closer to the governor’s chain of command,” Schultz said.
Under the bill, the number of state agencies with directors who report directly to the governor would be reduced from 37 to 16. Myriad departments would be merged: for example, the Department of Cultural Affairs would merge with the Department of Administrative Services, the Iowa Finance Authority would merge with the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and the Department of Human Rights would merge with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Among many other provisions, the proposal also would create more agency leaders who are appointed by the governor and subject to Iowa Senate confirmation, rather than being elected by state boards or commissions; and brings community-based corrections programs into the state’s Department of Corrections.
The proposal also would give the governor more leeway to pay directors higher salaries, which Reynolds has said is needed to recruit and retain top talent and streamline higher salaries by eliminating the need for bonuses; would explicitly state that the state attorney general has the authority to prosecute cases without first consulting with the county attorney; and would give the state attorney general’s office exclusive jurisdiction over elections-related cases.
Majority Republicans advanced the giant bill with only minor, technical amendments. Nothing of substance in Reynolds’ original proposal was changed.
“I have come to the conclusion that the homework has been done, that the concerns, while they are legitimate concerns, but the answers I received show that the homework has been done and that this is a good bill,” Schultz said.
Senate Democrats presented 11 amendments to the bill, most proposing to strike a proposed change and keep a state agency where it currently resides within state government.
For example, Democrats proposed eliminating the attorney general jurisdiction language, preventing the dissolution of the state board of health, keeping community-based corrections programs more independent of the state, and keeping where they are the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the state consumer advocate’s office, and the Department of the Blind.
Majority Republicans rejected each amendment proposed by Democrats.
“I wish we could have addressed more changes in this chamber, rather than a complete rejection of any ideas the minority party had,“ said Sen. Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines.
Reynolds’ proposal, Senate File 514, was informed by recommendations made in a 68-page report produced by a Virginia-based consulting firm. Guidehouse was paid nearly $1 million by the state, which used federal pandemic relief funds.
The Guidehouse report estimates that if the governor’s office implements its recommendations, the state could save a total of roughly $215 million over four years, including $73.5 million in the first year. Those savings include the proposed selling off of some state-owned lands around prisons.
A fiscal analysis from the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency says the governor’s bill — which does not include those prospective land sales — will reduce state general fund spending by $12.4 million in the first year.
With its passage in the Senate, the proposal now needs only the blessing of the Iowa House. The House is not expected to debate the bill this week.
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