Tag Archives: Iowa

Boulton unveils his labor agenda

Source: Ed Tibbetts, The Courier, February 22, 2018
Iowa would reverse the year-old limits on collective bargaining rights for public employees, start a new family and medical leave plan for workers around the state and raise the minimum wage under an agenda Democratic candidate for governor Nate Boulton unveiled this week. Boulton, a state senator from Des Moines, is one of seven candidates for the party’s nomination for governor. And his plan is an attempt to lay out a vision for Iowa. … In releasing the plan, Boulton’s campaign said he would seek to implement it in his first legislative session if elected. The agenda essentially packages a number of proposals he and other Democrats have introduced in the Republican-controlled Legislature that have gone nowhere. The proposals include reversing the move to put the state’s Medicaid program under the management of private insurance companies and closing the state-run mental health institutions. …


Gov. Reynolds supports bill that cuts reporting requirements on state’s privatized Medicaid program
Source: Paul Brennan, Little Village Magazine, February 12, 2018
During her regular weekly press conference on Monday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said she is committed to transparency, but also came out in favor of cutting the amount of publicly reported information about how well the state’s controversial privatized Medicaid management program is performing.  The proposal to cut the amount information published about Medicaid comes one month after a report from the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), the agency responsible for overseeing Medicaid, showed that privatizing the management of the program that provides health coverage for approximately 600,000 Iowans has produced only a fraction of the savings that were promised when privatization began. …

Senate Democrats call on federal officials for Medicaid look over
Source: Michael Ramm, The Gazette, February 1, 2018
As Iowa enters its second year of privatized Medicaid managed care, every Iowa Senate Democrat, plus one independent, has called on the federal government to step in, saying the state is “approaching a crisis.”  Senate legislators sent a letter last week to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, urging its officials to do a field visit to the state “so that you can learn firsthand about the problems that providers and Medicaid beneficiaries continue to experience,” the letter states.  “Hospitals, nursing homes and other Iowa health care providers — especially in Iowa’s small towns and rural areas — are telling us it’s not working,” the Jan. 24 letter states. “They are strapped with delayed or reduced payments, red tape and bureaucratic nightmares that are putting them in financial jeopardy.” …

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Iowa town’s municipal utility effort is financially feasible, consultant finds

Source: Karen Uhlenhuth, Midwest Energy News, January 17, 2018

A northeastern Iowa community could lower its electric bills by creating a municipal-owned utility, according to a feasibility study presented to its city council Tuesday. Supporters of an effort to create a city-owned electric utility in Decorah, Iowa, got a boost this week from a consultant’s report that concludes the move is financially feasible. … Talk of a municipal utility surfaced after several attempts to develop renewable energy in the city ran into policies of Interstate Power and Light, the investor-owned utility that currently serves Decorah and much of the state. …

… Although the feasibility study, conducted by NewGen Strategies & Solutions and two other consultants, signaled that municipalization could work, Johnson said he’s aware of what a long and arduous process it would entail. The City of Boulder (Colo.), for example, last November approved a tax measure that will provide the funds needed to continue exploring the possibility of creating a city utility. That process began seven years ago. … Every year there are communities that start to explore creating a municipal utility to take the place of a for-profit utility, Schryver said. Although motivations tend to vary, she said that the desire for clean energy has been the main driver recently. A few new municipal utilities have taken shape lately. In California, the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, which provides water service, recently won approval from state authorities to create an electrical utility as well, meaning it will displace Pacific Gas & Electric in that locality. … Jefferson County in Washington state formed a municipal utility in 2013 to serve about 18,000 customers who formerly purchased electricity from Puget Sound Energy. Three smaller communities — two in Alaska and one in Ohio — also created new municipal utilities in the past few years, according to Schryver. Although exploration of municipalization doesn’t always result in a city-owned utility, Schryver said it can effect change in other ways. In Minneapolis, for example, efforts to depart from Xcel Energy ceased when the utility agreed to expand its clean-energy portfolio. …

IPERS considering in-house management of retirement funds

Source: James Q. Lynch, The Gazette, January 16, 2018
IPERS officials told Iowa lawmakers it likely will be next year before they ask for legislative changes to allow in-house management the $30 billion public employee retirement fund.  IPERS, Iowa Public Employee’s Retirement System, which paid out $2 billion in benefits last year, is in “preliminary discussion” of what they are calling internal investment management. Currently, IPERS contracts for outside management of its funds, but CEO Donna Mueller and Chief Investment Officer Karl Koch told the House State Government Committee Tuesday they believe millions of dollars could be saved annually through in-house management of investments.  However, they added, the change would require “significant” startup investment as well as trading, accounting and control infrastructure. …

City Council advances plans to privatize Tyson, Orpheum management

Source: Ian Richardson, Sioux City Journal, October 16, 2017

Sioux City is entering contract negotiations with a Philadelphia-based venue management firm to oversee day-to-day operations at the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre. … Monday’s decision followed nearly an hour of discussion that included more than a dozen comments from the public — many of them local labor leaders and city employees concerned about their jobs and benefits — in a nearly standing-room-only City Council chamber. “We’ve heard this song and dance before throughout the state of Iowa,” Chris De Harty, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 212, said of contracting out public services. …


Majority voice support for private management as City Council defers vote
Source: Ian Richardson, Sioux City Journal, October 10, 2017
A majority of City Council members on Monday voiced their favor toward a proposal by a private management firm to run two city entertainment venues, but ultimately deferred a final vote until next week.  The delay came at the request of Councilman Dan Moore, who said he wanted to take that time to gather public input and to reflect on the disadvantages and advantages of switching. … The city is weighing whether to enter negotiations with the Philadelphia-based Spectra for management of the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre, a move recommended by City Manager Bob Padmore and by the Orpheum Theatre Board of Directors. Sioux City has been exploring the move this year and has been deciding whether to contract with Spectra or conduct a series of organizational tweaks within its current city management structure, a move favored by another city panel, the Events Facilities Advisory Board.… Chris De Harty, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 212 — which represents more than 350 workers, including the city’s operations, field services, technical and clerical staff — said city staff have done well up to this point and he doubts a contracted company would improve the situation. …

AFSCME President, Over 20 Lawmakers Begin State Supreme Court Case Against Branstad

Source: Ben Oldach, WHOtv, September 14, 2016

A State Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday could impact which state-funded programs get funded at budget time. The case pits AFSCME President Danny Homan and over 20 lawmakers against Governor Branstad. It comes from a veto issued by Gov. Branstad last July which effectively shut down two state-run mental hospitals. The heart of the prosecution’s argument came from a statute in Iowa’s code identifying four mental health hospitals; one in Mount Pleasant, Independence, Clarinda and Cherokee. …


High court asked to overturn Branstad’s closures of mental health institutes
Source: William Petroski, Des Moines Register, September 14, 2016

The Iowa Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to decide if Gov. Terry Branstad violated state law last year by using his line-item veto authority to close two state mental health institutes. … The dispute dates to July 2015, when the Republican governor vetoed a bipartisan compromise plan that would have reversed his closure of the mental institution at Mount Pleasant and would have temporarily kept open a similar facility at Clarinda. Twenty-five state legislators and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sued Branstad. They contended his veto of more than $6 million in spending broke a law requiring the state to operate four mental hospitals, including the two that he closed. They have asked the high court to overturn a Polk County District Court ruling last November by Polk County District Judge Douglas Staskal, who sided with Branstad. The Supreme Court did not issue a ruling Wednesday and the justices didn’t say when the case will be decided.

Judge dismisses lawsuit over closing of Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda MHI’s
Source: Pat Curtis, Radio Iowa, November 4, 2015

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Governor Terry Branstad by the state’s largest public employees union and 20 legislative Democrats. The lawsuit was filed after Branstad vetoed funding approved by the legislature that would have kept two of the state’s Mental Health Institutes open. … Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, said the action the governor took to close the two MHIs was illegal. But, a Polk County judge has ruled Branstad had the authority to veto financial support for such facilities and backed a request by state attorneys to throw out the lawsuit. The attorney representing AFSCME and the lawmakers plans to appeal the decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Branstad’s mental-hospital closures debated in court
Source: Tony Leys, The Des Moines Register, October 8, 2015

Lawyers for Gov. Terry Branstad and his critics argued in court Thursday over whether he broke the law by using his line item veto authority to effectively shutter two state mental hospitals. … Branstad’s lawyers earlier asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the legislators and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lacked grounds to sue. The judge disagreed, ruling last month that the lawsuit could proceed. However, he dismissed Department of Human Services Director Charles Palmer as a defendant, saying Palmer had no say in Branstad’s veto. There will be no trial, because the two sides agree on the facts of the case. Staskal said Thursday that he would rule on the legal questions within 30 days. Whoever loses the case then could appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Editorial: Is Branstad behaving like an autocrat?
Source: The Des Moines Register, September 27, 2015

Gov. Terry Branstad has established a pattern of governing that ignores the existence of 150 state lawmakers. When legislators complain, lawsuits allege an abuse of power, or Iowans die after being moved from a state home he closed, the governor is already focused on his next agenda item. … Though Iowa law specifies the state shall operate mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda, the governor unilaterally shut down those facilities, too. At least three former residents have died while a lawsuit against Branstad makes its way through the courts. Now he is seeking to privatize Iowa’s $4 billion Medicaid program by handing over its operations to managed care companies. Without evidence this would improve the health of Iowans or details about how exactly it would save money, his administration has moved forward to transform the government health insurance program for 560,000 Iowans. It sought bids from companies and sent out a press release announcing the “winners.”

Judge: Branstad can be sued for mental-hospital closure
Source: Tony Leys, The Des Moines Register, September 21, 2015

Democratic legislators and the leader of the state workers’ union have the right to sue Gov. Terry Branstad over his closure of two state mental hospitals, a judge has ruled. … The Iowa attorney general’s office, representing the governor, countered the lawsuit by contending the union leader and the legislators could not show he exceeded his authority by vetoing money that would have kept them running. The state lawyers also contended the plaintiffs didn’t have grounds to sue because they couldn’t show they were directly harmed by the hospital closures. Judge Douglas Staskal disagreed with the governor. In a ruling filed last week, the Polk County district judge ruled that Homan and the legislators have “standing” to file the lawsuit. In other words, they showed that Branstad’s action harmed them specifically. The judge wrote that Homan had the right to sue because several dozen of his union’s members worked at the hospitals.

Judge denies motion to dismiss lawsuit over Branstad closing mental health facilities
Source: Bleeding Heartland, September 17, 2015

Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal ruled yesterday that a lawsuit challenging Governor Terry Branstad’s line-item vetoes of mental health facility funding can move forward. … But in a thirteen-page ruling, Judge Staskal rejected the state’s arguments that “the plaintiffs lack standing, have failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and that the case presents a nonjusticiable political question.” He found that AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan has standing because he represents the interests of state workers who were laid off when the state government closed in-patient mental health facilities in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. The judge also noted that state legislators “have standing to challenge the propriety of the Governor’s exercise of his veto authority.” Judge Staskal found plaintiffs had stated a claim: “a challenge to the Governor’s exercise of his line-item veto authority.” As for the political question, the ruling noted, “Whether to close Clarinda and Mount Pleasant is a policy matter for the other branches of government. Whether the Governor’s particular use of his line-item veto power is constitutional is a matter for the courts.”

Jails Struggling with Mental Health Placement Following MHI Closure
Source: Rob Sussman, KBUR, August 19, 2015

The transition coordinator for Des Moines and Lee County Jails says that the closure of the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute is already putting a strain on the area’s correctional system. … In Des Moines and Lee Counties, they’ve changed the process for booking inmates in the jail to better screen for mental illness. … Kramer says that the closure of the Mount Pleasant MHI has created excess strain on the correctional system, making it more difficult to assist inmates with their mental health needs. “We’ve seen a lot of struggles with placement. Some people who would have formerly been able to get in a placement situation can’t because those beds are being taken up by former MHI patients,” Kramer explained. The MHI was closed last month after Governor Branstad opted not to approve funding for either the MHI in Mount Pleasant or the one in Clarinda.

Iowa Lawmaker Tours Cherokee Mental Health Facility
Source: Rachael Kraus, SiouxlandMatters.com, August 17, 2015

… Since then, three patients have died after being moved from the Clarinda facility over to private care, adding attention to the issue. The Governor’s decision to close facilities was met with praise and harsh criticism, even a lawsuit.  Iowa union members and some lawmakers filed a lawsuit over what they call the Governor’s ‘overreach’ of the law. … He says the facility isn’t the problem, it’s that it can house just 36 people and now it’s one of two facilities in the state after Gov. Branstad’s veto of funding for the facilities in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. Cherokee’s facility could be expanded to house at least 12 more patients, but that would require state approval.  The last time lawmakers put forward a bill that would fund mental health programs, it was vetoed. … Within weeks of closing down Clarinda, three patients died after being transferred to a new facility. Hogg says lawmakers can’t keep letting the system fail the patients.  He says there needs to be a hard conversation about the mental health system in the state, and see changes made. But that starts, he says, with making sure facilities that are already helping Iowans stay open.
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Davenport takes first step toward CitiBus changes

Source: Devan Patel, Quad City Times, August 25, 2016

The city of Davenport will explore a regionalized management approach for its CitiBus service after the City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved staff beginning negotiations with Illinois-based MetroLINK. The council’s decision is just the first step before the city brings forward any contracts and agreements with MetroLINK, the major mass transit provider in the Illinois Quad-Cities. … In an Aug. 2 memo to Mayor Frank Klipsch and the City Council, Finance Director Brandon Wright cited four shortcomings with the city’s current approach, privatized management, along with his recommendation to shift course. Those shortcomings were:

  • high turnover rate in transit management
  • disconnect between drivers and management
  • lack of improvements to route system
  • lack of effort to regionalize transit services


Davenport approves six month parking enforcement trial with Per Mar
Source: Ashley Davis, KWQC, May 11, 2016

The Davenport City Council voted Wednesday night, to contract with Per Mar to provide enforcement for downtown parking. This would allow them to hire two Per Mar employees for the price of one city employee. On top of benefits for city employees, Brandon Wright, the city’s financial director says they pay them more than $60,000 to run downtown parking enforcement, but with the contract, they would have two Per Mar employees on staff, which would be paid the same, without benefits. … Rather than one city employee working for 40 hours a week for $30 per hour, a contract would allow two Per Mar employees to be on staff. Each would work 40 hours a week, and be paid $16 per hour. … Some members of AFSCME asked the council to reconsider during the meeting Wednesday night. “When you think you know what you want to buy and then you go and look at it, sometimes you find that the least expensive option was not what it appeared to be, or nor was it the best option for performance or reliability,” Terry Nixon, president of AFSCME Local 887, said. “We respectfully ask that you make the decision to hire a new city employee to perform these duties.” …

Privatize vs. unionize: City Council to take up debate
Source: Brian Wellner, Quad-City Times, May 10, 2016

As Davenport aldermen are poised to vote Wednesday to approve a three-year contract with private security firm Per Mar to provide enforcement for downtown parking, they heard from city finance staff Tuesday that outsourcing the job is the cheaper choice. … He said the cost per hour of service of an in-house employee is $29 to $34 whereas the outsourced worker would cost $16. At 40 hours, the total cost to do it in-house is $60,000 to $72,000 whereas the total cost to outsource is $33,000. The contract with Davenport-based Per Mar Security Services is worth $67,000 per year. …

Davenport may outsource parking enforcement
Source: Brian Wellner, Quad City Times, April 27, 2016

The Davenport City Council is poised to approve a three-year contract with private security firm Per Mar to provide enforcement for downtown parking. Aldermen heard details of the contract for $67,000 a year at a work session Tuesday and are expected to vote on it at the May 11 City Council meeting. While the contract is for three years, it includes a six-month trial clause in which the city can rate Per Mar’s performance and choose at the end of that period whether to back out. Davenport has money in its budget for the upcoming fiscal year to hire back a city employee to issue downtown parking tickets, city Finance Director Brandon Wright said. … AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan previously told the Quad-City Times that “outsourcing” the service “would diminish oversight because the city will no longer directly control the employees.”

Discussion continues on CitiBus changes
Source: Thomas Geyer, Quad City Times, April 7, 2016

Davenport aldermen will continue discussion on the city’s updated 2015 transportation plan that realigns many routes along major thoroughfares, trims hours on some days, but expands service to Sundays. For 2015, the CitiBus transit system ran at a $500,000 deficit, which the city is trying to mitigate or eliminate. The plan calls for the city to reduce seven full-time drivers to part-time. … Several AFSCME members spoke Wednesday about the lack of training and professionalism temporary employees of the security firm would have, and would likely not know how to deal well with the public. The city has been running a trial contract with Per Mar since January. Davenport Finance Director Brandon Wright said there has been more consistent enforcement in downtown parking.

Davenport opens up meetings, may privatize parking enforcement
Source: Brian Wellner, Quad City Times, April 6, 2016

Davenport aldermen are learning that a private local security firm may take over downtown parking enforcement. City department heads briefed aldermen in a series of meetings Tuesday afternoon that previously have been held behind closed doors. Parking enforcement was among the topics. The city contracted with Davenport-based Per Mar Security Services for a trial run that began in January. Davenport Finance Director Brandon Wright said results show more “consistent” enforcement of downtown parking. Previously city employees belonging to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees provided the service. … A contract with Per Mar for $67,000 a year is expected to be voted on by the City Council next week. The contract will first be heard by the Committee-of-the-Whole tonight. AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan said in a statement to the Quad-City Times that “outsourcing” the service “would diminish oversight because the city will no longer directly control the employees.” Homan said the union has met with the city to “explore” keeping the service in house.

Branstad: Iowa DOT will continue consolidating facilities

Source: William Petrowski, Des Moines Register, June 27, 2016

The Iowa Department of Transportation will continue to consolidate its facilities, but it is not planning any major layoffs, Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday. Branstad said he has met with DOT Director Paul Trombino in the wake of the Iowa Legislature’s decision to reduce a request for an additional $9.7 million in state funding to $4.85 million. DOT officials sought the extra money to cover cost increases for collective bargaining agreements, merit pay increases and state employee insurance contracts. Without the money, they warned the agency faced layoffs of more than 400 employees over the next four years, which could hurt efforts to plow snow, fill potholes, issue driver’s licenses and inspect construction projects.


Iowa DOT expands Highway Helper program, outsources operation
Source: Ryan Smith, KCCI, July 9, 2015

Highway Helper’s success in the metro prompted the Iowa Department of Transportation to expand services; however, the state has hired an outside company to run the program. … The DOT will deploy four more trucks: two in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and two in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area. However, the DOT will no longer use state workers to run Highway Helper. “This allows us to free up our workers to concentrate on highway maintenance and activities,” said Andrea Henry, who works for the department. Instead, the state is paying Wisconsin-based Prairie Land Towing $9.1 million to operate the program for three years….

Red Oak board outsources food services

Source: Mike Peterson, KMA Land, June 14, 2016

At its regular meeting Monday evening, the Red Oak School Board approved a contract with Taher of Minnetonka, Minnesota to handle school lunches and breakfasts for the 2016-2017 school year. In an interview during KMA’s 7:05 newscast Tuesday morning, Red Oak School Superintendent Tom Messinger says the outsourcing of food services follows similar action on custodial services. … While saying privatizing food services is expected to save the district money, the superintendent adds the exact amount is undetermined. … Similar to the outsourcing of custodial services, Messinger says the district’s current food service staff will be retained. …

Johnston to decide on bus privatization Monday

Source: Linh Ta, Des Moines Register, April 20, 2016

The Johnston school district will decide Monday whether it will hire a private company to provide transportation for students or continue to operate its own fleet of buses. The district has been studying the issue for months. … Johnston spent approximately $3.1 million on student transportation during the 2015 fiscal year, an increase of about $600,000 from four years earlier, according to numbers provided by the district. It operates a fleet of 75 buses and employs about 60 drivers. Four transportation companies — Durham School Services, Student Transportation of America, Metropolitan Transportation Network and First Student — have presented proposals ranging from $2.95 million to $3.7 million for one year, based on 2016-17 costs. Two of those proposals are less than $3.12 million, the amount the district expects to spend if it maintains its own bus fleet. … A survey of 53 JESPA drivers showed that eight drivers would stay if the district opts to privatize busing, 16 were undecided and 29 said they would not return. … If a private company were hired, existing district drivers would be rehired at the same wages, but their benefits would change. Johnston offers paid sick days and access to the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System. If the district contracts its transportation services, drivers would have access to a 401(k) and would likely not receive paid time off, said Laura Kacer, executive director of human resources.


Johnston considers privatizing school bus service
Source: Linh Ta, The Des Moines Register, October 23, 2015

The Johnston school district is considering privatizing its bus service in an effort to save money and avoid ongoing problems with driver shortages. … Johnston spent approximately $3.1 million transporting students during the 2015 fiscal year, an increase of about $600,000 from four years earlier, according to numbers provided by the district. It operates a fleet of 75 buses and employs about 60 drivers. The district will request proposals from private busing companies to see how much money it could save before making a decision. It also could consider scaling back the service it currently offers. … Johnston would consider adding a contract stipulation that any private company place a priority on hiring current district transportation employees, according to Superintendent Lunn. … But drivers who were counting on receiving full retirement benefits under the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System would be out of luck, Howsare said.

Welcome to Jobs Inc., Where States Have Little Say in Economic Development

Source: Alan Greenblat, Governing, November 2015

Putting the chamber of commerce or other private groups in charge of economic development has long been common at the local level and has been tried in some states, but just over the past few years it has gained popularity in states with Republican administrations, including Arizona, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. Illinois and Oklahoma are also considering a similar move. …Of course, commerce departments and other public agencies have been guilty of incompetence and malfeasance as well. Perhaps the most notorious example in recent years involves 38 Studios, a video game company founded by former Boston Red Sox star Curt Schilling, which went bust after receiving a $75 million loan from the state of Rhode Island. … At the same time, purely public agencies continue to be responsible for some of the biggest scores in development, including Nevada’s billion-dollar deal with Tesla last year to build a ginormous battery factory outside Reno. This points to what may be the fundamental problem with the whole privatization push: There’s no proof that this approach works any better — or really all that much differently — than old-fashioned development agencies.