- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa Senate Democrat said Tuesday this year’s legislative session won’t end until Gov. Terry Branstad provides information about the Iowa Juvenile Home, which he closed in January.

Sen. Steve Sodders, of State Center, said lawmakers sought information from Branstad more than two months ago about how the state cares for troubled girls and the administration’s plans for treating delinquent juveniles.

Sodders said there’s been no response to this request, which was made confidentially by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency to Iowa’s Department of Human Services. The agency requested information on the Legislature’s behalf about any plans the Branstad administration has for the care of delinquent girls.

“Here’s our problem: We need information. We’ve asked for the information. We haven’t gotten a response,” Sodders said in a statement.

In January, Sodders joined with other Democratic lawmakers and the head of the state’s largest employees’ union to file a lawsuit against Branstad and Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer, calling for the home’s reopening. A district judge ruled Branstad can’t unilaterally close the home, but Branstad appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, where the case will be reviewed.



Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for Branstad, said in a statement that given the type of information Sodders requested and the ongoing litigation, careful review has been necessary. He said a response is expected soon.

The legislative session has no specific end date, but lawmakers will stop receiving expense payments after April 22, the 100th day of the session.

That’s less than a month away, and Sodders said Senate Democrats won’t let the session adjourn until officials deal with the juvenile home question.

“We need this information to address a serious issue and the session won’t end until we reach agreement,” he said.

The Democratic-led Senate passed a bill in February re-establishing a state-owned facility for girls. Under the proposal, educational and treatment services would be improved to address the needs of delinquent girls not previously served. It passed with no Republican support, and the Republican-controlled House did not take up the measure prior to a legislative deadline, effectively killing it this session.

Sodders said he now intends to add the language from that bill to the budget, which would require that money is allotted for a facility and the workers needed to run it. This process would begin in the House Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

If the House doesn’t include such language, Sodders said lawmakers plan to add it when the budget comes to the Senate for consideration.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said lawmakers in the House have continued discussion on the matter.

“We’re going to make a decision based on what serves those kids the best,” he said.

Branstad, who closed the home in Toledo following allegations that teens were improperly treated and educated at the facility, opposed the legislation originally proposed by the Senate. An investigation by the advocacy group Disability Rights Iowa and stories by The Des Moines Register brought the mistreatment to light. They reported that staffers relied on isolation cells and physical restraints.

“The state is still lacking an appropriate setting for delinquent juvenile girls,” Sodders said. “We need to settle this before we get out of the session.”

___

Associated Press writer David Pitt contributed to this story.

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