Committee reviews proposal to eliminate 25% of state boards and commissions

By: - August 29, 2023 6:16 pm

(Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch with background via Canva)

A committee reviewing Iowa’s system of state boards and commissions is considering a proposal to eliminate more than 25% of those panels.

The Boards and Commissions Review Committee was created as a part of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ agency restructuring bill signed into law during the 2023 legislative session. The bill consolidated the state’s 37 executive-level cabinet agencies into 16 agencies. As a part of the reorganization process, the committee has until Sept. 30 to make recommendations to the governor and Iowa Legislature on all of Iowa’s existing 256 boards and commissions.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the committee, members heard the preliminary recommendations from six subcommittees to eliminate 69 state panels, merge 52 into other bodies and reorganize 47 of the boards and commissions. The remaining 88 boards and commissions would continue operating in their existing form.

Kraig Paulsen, director of the Iowa Department of Management and the committee chairman, said the subcommittees’ recommendations showcased some of the issues with existing boards and commissions, as well as the need for both “sunrise” and “sunset” provisions when the bodies are created. Several of the panels that committee members proposed eliminating or consolidating were no longer funded, deemed redundant by other panels or by state agencies, or are no longer required to exist under state or federal law.

In addition to the structural changes proposed, the subcommittees also recommended changes that would remove some of the powers of certain boards and commissions. The proposals included:

  • Removing the Alcoholic Beverages Commission’s rulemaking approval and its authority to reverse the actions of the state director of revenue.
  • Shifting rulemaking authority from the Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission to the Iowa Communications Network, and having the ICN director be appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the governor.
  • Removing policymaking and rulemaking authority from the state Soil Conservation and Water Quality Committee.

Paulsen said that as the state works through reorganizing, it needs to make sure the general public retains an avenue for participation in state government while recognizing the “limitations” of part-time boards and commissions.

“As you all know, having served for both the legislative branch and the executive branch, part-time boards and commissions just are not particularly well-positioned to manage the core functions of the executive branch agencies,” Paulsen said.

Some of the state’s highest-profile boards and commissions, such as the Iowa Board of Regents overseeing the state’s public universities, the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board and Commission for the Blind, would not see any changes under the subcommittee proposals.

During the legislative session, Reynolds said the state government reorganization process was long overdue, noting that Iowa’s last comprehensive evaluation of Iowa’s government structure occurred during the Iowa farm crisis of the 1980s. The governor’s office estimates the process will save the state $214 million over four years. The governor said in July that since the law’s official implementation on July 1, more than 500 open state government positions have been eliminated, and more than 2,600 state employees have transitioned to working for a different agency as part of the restructuring process.

Democrats have criticized the reorganization legislation, calling changes that gave the governor’s office the ability to fire workers holding four-year terms, appoint more agency directors and eliminate director salary limits a “power grab” by Reynolds.

Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, said she has some concerns about the review of boards and commissions, saying the consolidation process could limit Iowans’ involvement in, and oversight of, state government.

“I think there’s there’s a line to be drawn between efficiency and not allowing sufficient input for the public, and potentially consolidation of power,” Weiner said.

In addition to specific recommendations on specific bodies, the committee reported that it found Iowa “requires a license or certification for too many occupations,” recommending the state implements standards across all licensing types to streamline the process. Members also recommended compensating members of certain boards and commissions for their work and modernizing Iowa’s Open Meetings Law to allow more public participation through virtual or hybrid meeting options.

Another recommendation was to repeal Iowa’s gender-balance requirements. Paulsen said the current state law requiring that equal numbers of men and women serve on all state and local government boards creates some problems for panels that have difficulty finding people to participate. He pointed to the state Electrical Examining Board, which he said has difficulty finding women to serve as a member though the industry is “working hard to get more women involved in that particular profession.”

Paulsen also said that most Iowa board and commissions are “effectively” comprised of equal numbers of men and women.

“I know this may be a bit provocative to some,” he said. “But I think at this point in time — that was put on the books in 1986. I did a quick look, I don’t have an exact number, but effectively we’re at 50-50. So the law accomplished what it needed to do. I think it’s a conversation worth having.”

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, introduced a bill in January to eliminate gender-balance requirements that did not advance during the legislative session. The law is also being challenged in federal court by two Iowans who argued the gender balance requirement violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Before submitting their recommendations to the governor and state lawmakers, the committee will solicit public input at a meeting scheduled to take place at noon, Sept. 6, at the Iowa State Capitol. Those interested in speaking must email [email protected] with their request to speak.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.