- Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Gov. Terry Branstad should reopen two former state-run mental health centers to comply with Iowa law, according to a lawsuit announced Monday by the head of the state’s largest public employees union and 20 Democratic lawmakers.

Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says the lawsuit, which includes support from Democrats in the House and Senate, was filed in Polk County District Court and seeks to compel Branstad’s administration to reopen the centers in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant.

The lawsuit claims the closings were illegal because Iowa law requires the state to operate them.

“No one is above the law. That includes the governor. We are filing this lawsuit to hold him accountable for breaking the law,” Homan said in a statement.

Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers responded by reiterating the governor’s stance that the centers were not suited to offer modern mental health care.

“Mr. Homan and AFSCME may be resistant to change that improves Iowans’ health and eager to sue on behalf of their members to protect the status quo, but Gov. Branstad will continue putting patients first and working to improve care, increase access and modernize our state’s delivery of services,” he said in a written statement.

The suit also names Charles Palmer, the director of the state Department of Human Services. A DHS spokeswoman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Branstad proposed removing state funding for the centers in a budget plan released in January. Lawmakers from both parties criticized the move and debated the issue throughout the legislative session. In the end, the Republican-majority House and the Democratic-led Senate reached an agreement to keep the Mount Pleasant facility open and to seek a private provider to run services at Clarinda. Branstad later vetoed the deal.

Branstad has faced similar court challenges in the past. Homan and a group of Democrats filed a lawsuit over Branstad’s veto in 2011 of some economic development funding that closed 36 unemployment offices. In 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Branstad overstepped his authority. Lawmakers approved a new budget for workforce development.

In early 2014, Homan and some lawmakers again filed a lawsuit over Branstad’s unilateral decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home, a facility for the state’s most troubled girls. The Iowa Supreme Court later dismissed the suit, calling it moot because the Legislature had agreed to stop funding the home. The justices declined to rule on whether Branstad’s action was an abuse of power.

Homan says he believes his latest lawsuit is strong because it cites current state law and language that he says specifics the facilities must be operated by the state.

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