DES MOINES — More than one-half billion dollars in funding for courts and corrections was approved by the Iowa House on Monday evening as the Legislature continued its crawl toward adjournment.
“This is the smallest, shortest budget bill that we will work on this year — two line items,” House Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, said in presenting the Judicial Branch budget of $177.6 million for court operations and $3.1 million for the witness and jury revolving fund. That was approved 55-41.
Worthan said the budget, House File 2495, “does a lot of good things,” including reducing the number of judicial vacancies.
“We’re going to be down to two or three vacancies in judgeships out of 117,” he said. The courts will be able to fill about half of the other open positions and fund salary increases.
“I think people will see an improvement in court services,” he said.
The House then approved House File 2492, a $568 million justice systems general fund appropriations plus nearly $18 million from other funds.
In addition to corrections, the budget funds the attorney general, victim assistance and legal services. It is an increase in the general fund appropriation of nearly $12 million, Worthan said.
In approving the budget, the House also approved a policy change regarding reading rooms at prison facilities.
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Currently, the Department of Corrections is required to provide inmates with suitable space for reading material. That requires corrections officers to inspect reading materials inmates receive to redact references to crime and violence. Then they escort the offender to the reading room, observe them, escort them back to their cell and then inspect the material again to make sure no material has been removed.
“It’s counterproductive,” Worthan said, especially at the Newton prison that houses sexual offenders.
Additionally, the department would be prohibited from using any funds to distribute commercial sexually explicit published material.
The bill also includes an almost $200,000 increase to the Division of Criminal Investigation to employ two additional full-time positions to help expedite the crime lab’s DNA processing and sample analysis.
It was approved 55-40.
Worthan said the House and Senate have agreed to the Judicial Branch budget, but not the justice system budget.
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