Critics say proposals to merge, purge state boards could put Iowans at risk

By: - September 6, 2023 7:37 pm

Advocates and professionals lined up to speak Sept. 6, 2023 at the State Capitol against proposals made by the Iowa Boards and Commissions Review Committee. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Recommendations to cut or merge more than 100 of the state’s boards and commissions could put Iowans’ health and safety at risk, professionals, advocates and board members said Wednesday during a public hearing.

People waiting for a turn to speak at the Boards and Commissions Review Committee meeting spilled out into the hall at the Iowa State Capitol, and more turned in online with comments. A majority of speakers brought up concerns with the committee’s proposals to consolidate and eliminate 119 boards and commissions — many of which oversee licensure and focus on supporting specific cultural groups.

Members of the committee said the changes were to make state government more efficient by moving the duties of certain panels to larger boards or to agencies directly. Opponents said the moves could lead to higher expenditures, lower standards and the loss of diverse voices from state government.

Luke Elzinga, a board member of the Iowa Hunger Coalition, said the review board needs to talk more with members of the panels they plan to cut or merge, as well as with Iowans who work with them, before moving forward with their report to the governor and Legislature.

“We ask the committee to take the recommendations that are presented seriously with a greater attention into the people and programs that are being impacted,” Elzinga said. “… Without it, this all feels like deliberate effort to consolidate power in the executive, deregulate Iowa’s industries and limit the role of public oversight of our state government.”

In the preliminary recommendations, the committee said it found Iowa “requires a license or certification for too many occupations,” and recommended the state create licensing standards that can be used across all industries as a way to streamline the process. It also recommended merging several licensing boards into larger panels in charge of approving professional credentials to practice.

Speakers raise alarm about health, safety regulation

Most speakers at the public hearing said they support the effort to make state government more efficient, but said current licensing processes are in place to ensure Iowans’ health and safety.

Matt Fitzgerald, representing the Iowa Chiropractic Society, asked the board to avoid changes to the Iowa Board of Chiropractic, which grants licenses and investigates complaints for licensed chiropractors. The board typically spends five to six hours on chiropractic issues each meeting, he said, which another board would then have to take on in addition to its current workload.

“They might have an hour of work on their issue and then have to sit there for five hours on chiropractic issues, most likely more because they have to be educated by chiropractors on training, technique and best practices,” Fitzgerald said. “Currently, we have one year of investigations that are pushed back right now, adding to that board would exacerbate that issue.”

Depending on which boards were merged, the consolidation process could mean non-doctors would replace licensed doctors on the board, he said. The current board is made up of doctors and certified chiropractors, he said, and which is necessary to ensure licensed practitioners are meeting safety standards. These concerns about changes to licensing boards and procedures were echoed by professionals in multiple other health care fields, from dentistry to midwifery.

Abe Goetz, president-elect of the Iowa chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said similar problems could emerge by combining the Board of Social Work with the Board of Behavioral Sciences. Both boards’ meetings typically last a full day, he said, and combining the panels would not reduce the amount of work, but would lead to higher expenses per diem and payment for hotel stays through a two-day meeting.


Merging or eliminating the panels overseeing safety standards could also endanger Iowans, other professionals said. Samantha Groark, executive director of the Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council, called for the committee to reject mergers of plumbing and electrical licensing boards, as well as the elimination of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Board and of the Elevator Safety Board.

“If I had more than two minutes, I would share with you studies that have confirmed that proper oversight, similar boards and licensing in these industries have saved lives and improved outcomes,” Groark said. “I would also share news headlines with horror stories about boilers exploding because they went unmaintained and uninspected, or a story I literally read this morning where five people were just killed when an elevator at a famous Bali resort failed. This elevator had only one cable, some were removed, and no emergency brakes, which are dangerous — dangers that diligent boards like us investigate.”

Chairman: ‘Serious concerns’ would be ‘easy’ to fix

The committee chairman, Kraig Paulsen, director of the Iowa Department of Management, said speakers brought up “serious concerns,” but that concerns of the composition of professionals on licensing boards and enforcing standards currently overseen by boards and commissions are things that should be “easy enough to fix” if the Legislature decides to move forward with the committee’s recommendations.

“Do I think that where we’re at today is exactly what the General Assembly might send to the governor to sign? That would be shocking, right?” Paulsen said. “I mean, but this is a great conversation to have. And we got to hear from also folks how regulation and … some of the rules around licensing are burdensome and make make it harder to grow the economy.”

Speakers with conservative-leaning groups like the Institute for Justice, Archbridge Institute and Americans for Prosperity spoke in favor of the committee’s proposals. J.D. Davis, vice president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, said he and ABI members were glad to see a review of these institutions as a part of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ government reorganization law.

The committee was created under the state agency consolidation bill that Reynolds signed during the legislative session. Iowa businesses have already seen “fruitful results” from the law, Davis said.

“We, as businesses, we’re in continuous reorganization, reexamination of the way that we proceed and we think that the state doing this, starting with — its first since 1986 — review of the state functions, and now boards and commissions, can only bring benefits,” he said.

Criticism about lack of outreach

Multiple speakers serving boards and commissions that the committee suggested cutting and consolidating said they were blindsided by the preliminary recommendations and had not been contacted by committee members. Paulsen said he personally reached out to some board and commission members during the review process, and said he was “quite confident” that members of other subcommittees also consulted with people serving on the affected panels.

Cultural affairs panels proposed for merger

Other recommendations by the board included the elimination and merging of multiple culture-specific boards and commissions, with many of the duties to be relegated to Iowa’s Human Rights Board. People spoke against the consolidation of panels from the Latino Affairs Commission, Commission on the Status of Women, Youth Advisory Council and Commission of Deaf Services, saying that these groups were an avenue for underrepresented communities to have an active role in state government.

Keenan Crow with One Iowa criticized the committee for lack of communication with Iowans impacted, and for the lack of details in publicized recommendations beyond calling for certain boards and commissions to “consolidate” or “reorganize.”

“I took some meetings with members of these communities to see what they thought, and what I heard over and over again, was unambiguous,” Crow said. “These folks believe that these culturally specific commissions are doing their jobs, that they’re doing them well, that they are addressing issues specific to their communities, and that getting rid of them or rolling them all into one commission would be the loss of those specific community voices and would perpetuate the kind of systemic racism these commissions actually address.”

Panel suggests dropping gender-balance rule

The board also recommended removing Iowa’s gender-balance requirements to have equal numbers of men and women serve on all state and local government boards. Laura D’Agostino, a civil rights attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, said the law prevents qualified applicants from serving on boards and commissions due to their gender, citing a lawsuit against the state over the gender-equity requirements for the State Judicial Nominating Commission.

“Gender quotas not only prevent qualified people from serving and further impose logistical problems and filling seats, but they are unconstitutional and violate the 14th Amendment,” D’Agostino said. “This committee and Governor Reynolds should ensure that all Iowans are treated equally before the law, and that no one should be excluded from public office because of their gender.”

But Deborah Turner with the League of Women Voters said the law is still needed. In 2020, only 61% of Iowa’s boards were gender-balanced, she said, and women only hold 38% of seats on county boards and commissions and 25% of chair positions despite making up half of the state’s population.

In an earlier meeting, Paulsen said the reason the committee suggested repealing the law was because most Iowa board and commissions are “effectively” gender-balanced, and because certain boards and commissions like the Electrical Examining Board have faced difficulties finding women to serve. Turner said the state needs to continue “vigorously” seeking women’s involvement, and called for Iowa to be a role model to other states on how to achieve gender equality.

“There’s only one state that has active laws requiring gender balance at all levels of government: Iowa,” she said. “Why is that bad? And why are we determined to destroy the things that made our state a special place to live and grow?”

Paulsen told reporters that the committee would continue its “conversation” on the gender-balance recommendation.

“I don’t know where we end up on that, I sure don’t know where a bill might end up, let alone final legislation passed,” Paulsen said. “But, again, I don’t think we should be scared to have challenging conversations.”

The committee has a Sept. 30 deadline to submit recommendations to the governor and state lawmakers. Committee members plan to meet for a review at 10 a.m. Sept. 25 at the State Capitol before finalizing their proposal.


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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.