Committee approves $20 million increase for prisons as Reynolds promises Anamosa investigation

An attack that left two dead at the Anamosa State Penitentiary has heightened debate over prison funding. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Department of Corrections)

The House Appropriations Committee approved a $34.6 million increase in the proposed budget for state justice systems Wednesday, including what a lawmaker called “possibly a record increase” of $20.5 million for state prison salaries and staffing.

Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, called the proposal a “culmination” of his 11 years overseeing this budget.  “It’s not 100 percent optimal but it’s getting dang close,” he said.

The proposal would increase full-time equivalent positions by 13 across the entire system. The Anamosa Correctional Facility, where two staff members were killed in what the Department of Corrections said was an attack by inmates, would receive a $1.8 million increase.

Democrats, however, argued the amount proposed for new positions and salaries is inadequate given years of underfunding.

Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said state prisons are 10% over capacity and are understaffed by 9%. He pointed to a March incident at the Anamosa State Penitentiary that left two staff members dead.

“This is the first time an inmate has killed a guard in one of our correctional facilities since 1972. This is a conversation that’s overdue and it is compounded over many years. And we’re seeing the tragic symptoms of underinvestment in a public safety arena,” Hall said.

Worthan said out of 3,671 positions allowed throughout the corrections system, 80 positions are unfunded and 203 others were in the hiring process. At Anamosa, he said, 288 out of 311 approved positions were filled as of the last pay period and 15 were in the process of hiring.

“Anamosa, by any stretch of imagination, was not understaffed,” Worthan said, and jabbed at those trying to “make political hay” out of the tragedy.

He said having 200 to 250 open positions across the prison system is “standard operating procedure,” because of turnover and the need for training that slows down the process of filling vacancies.

Gov. Kim Reynolds promised Wednesday that the state would conduct an external investigation into the attack in addition to an internal Department of Corrections review. When asked whether Anamosa was understaffed, Reynolds said the review would reveal what changes are necessary at the facility.

“Changes may require additional investments, something that I am fully committed to doing, and this includes making sure that the department and its facilities are adequately staffed,” she said.

The Department of Corrections will create a new director of prison security position to monitor and improve security practices, Reynolds said. The department will also hold forums for prison staff to comment on their working conditions.

Worthan encouraged members of the committee to lobby their senators to maintain the level of increase provided in the bill. Senate Republicans have not yet released their proposed budget for justice systems. Reynolds’ budget released in January proposed a $5 million increase for state prisons, which she noted was calculated before any collective bargaining took place with the AFSCME union.

The bill passed the committee on a 14-9, party-line vote.  It moves to the House floor for consideration.

Lawmakers advance more than $1.5 billion in appropriations

The Iowa House Appropriations Committee approved five state budget bills Wednesday totaling nearly $1.5 billion, with all but one bill drawing opposition from all Democrats on the committee.

Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, complained that ranking Democrats on each budget subcommittee had received the proposed bills less than 24 hours before the panels met.

“That’s not leadership, either. It’s a disservice to the people of the state of Iowa, to not work with your ranking members to not communicate with them, to not talk with them about programs and to not take their insight and information,” Running-Marquardt said.

Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, chairman of the justice systems appropriations subcommittee, said he also wasn’t happy about the short time to review bills but that the process was normal.  “So I don’t know what the cure is for that. Maybe we can work together and we can find a cure. But unfortunately, that’s the way business has been done and continues to be done,” he said.

Here’s are some highlights of the proposals, based on Legislative Services Agency analysis of the bills:

Justice systems: 

The bill spends $619.6 million from the state general fund and $19 million from other funds. That’s an increase of $34.6 million from the current year.

The bill includes a $20.5 million increase for staffing and salaries at state prisons, an issue under the spotlight because of last month’s fatal attack on two staff members at the Anamosa Correctional Facility.

 The bill also includes a $2.4 million increase for the Office of the State Public Defender and $468,000 to the Indigent Defense Fund and a $9.5 million increase for Department of Public Safety, including $2.9 million and five new positions for the Iowa State Patrol.  Other agencies throughout the justice system also receive increases for salaries and staffing after last year’s status-quo budget.

Ag and natural resources

The bill appropriates a total of $54.8 million from the general fund for fiscal year 2022, an increase of $11.6 million from the current year. The bill also spends $92.8 million from other funds.

The bill includes a new $11 million appropriation for the Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program, which is part of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to create a state biofuels standard. Lawmakers indicated the amount may change depending on the outcome of the debate on House File 859. The bill also extends the Resource Enhancement and Protection fund (REAP) for five more years and provides a new appropriation of $500,000 for the Value-Added Agricultural Grant program.

Democrats expressed disappointment that the bill provides $12 million for REAP instead of the $20 million lawmakers envisioned when the program was created. Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said she was also unhappy with the lack of money for water quality in the bill.

Infrastructure

The bill spends nearly $122 million for next year from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund and Technology Reinvestment Fund. Most of the money in this budget comes from gambling revenues and is spent on capital projects.

Some of the larger appropriations include: 

Tuition replacement:  $28.1 million to the Board of Regents for tuition replacement for payment of debt service on academic revenue bonds

Workday:  $17.0 million for the implementation of the Workday, Inc. contract, a human resources software project. Lawmakers already approved $21 million that Reynolds originally tried to fund through federal coronavirus relief money.

Lake restoration:  $9.6 million for lake restoration, dredging, and water quality projects.

Water quality: $5.2 million for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative.

Prison kitchen: $5.2 million next year and $4 million in fiscal year 2023 to remodel the kitchen at the Clarinda Correctional Facility.

Capitol domes:  $5.2 million in fiscal years 2022 and 2033 to repair and renovate the four corner domes of the State Capitol.

State Training School renovations: $6.5 million to remodel dorms at the State Training School in Eldora.

Judicial Branch

The bill appropriates a total of $193.6 million from the general fund for fiscal year 2022. The Judicial Branch will receive $190 million for operations, an increase of $8.9 million compared to the current year.

The bill provides a 3% salary increase for Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Court will determine raises for other judges and magistrates.

Transportation

The bill appropriates a total of $397.8 million for fiscal year 2022 to the Department of Transportation, including $54 million from the Road Use Tax Fund and $344 million from the Primary Road Fund. That’s a decrease of $2.9 million compared to the current year.

Rep. Jacob Bossman, R-Sioux City, said while gas tax revenues were down about $50 million due to the pandemic, federal aid more than made up for the loss at about $55.5 million.

This bill received unanimous approval from the House Appropriations Committee.

Kathie Obradovich
Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.
Katie Akin
Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.