- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday indicated they wouldn’t immediately support legislation aimed at improving oversight of the state’s child protective services following the death of a 16-year-old West Des Moines girl who was allegedly tortured and starved.

During a news conference, Branstad was asked about the October death of Natalie Finn, whose parents Nicole Finn and Joseph Finn Jr. have pleaded not guilty to various charges in the case. The Republican governor said it’s important for the Iowa Department of Human Services to investigate alleged child abuse, but he also added that DHS must do things in “a thoughtful and judicious way that also protects the rights of parents and families.”

The governor’s spokesman, Ben Hammes, said later that Branstad and Reynolds are open to “conversations” about making improvements to the current oversight system, but Hammes added that the two officials will wait on lawmakers to introduce proposals.

The issue is expected to emerge during the new legislative session amid discussions over expanding home-schooling options in the state. Natalie was home-schooled, and the case has highlighted how the state monitors its system.

Republicans have also indicated that they support distributing state dollars to parents and guardians seeking schooling options for their children outside of a traditional public school.

Rep. Walt Rogers, a Cedar Falls Republican who is chairman of the House Education Committee, said while he tends to support a hands-off approach to home schooling, it “doesn’t mean I’m not open to looking at options right now.”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames and a ranking member in the Senate Education Committee, said many parents do “an excellent job” at home schooling, but that Natalie’s death was troubling.

“Now, I don’t want to broad-brush attack home schooling in general, but I think we need to have some legislation to tighten that up,” he said.

The issue also flared up on a day that organizations visited the Capitol to lobby for more investment from the state on foster care. The Des Moines Register has reported that Natalie and her siblings had also been involved in Iowa’s foster care system at some point.

Branstad has proposed that Iowa spend about $127 million on child and family services - which includes foster care - for the budget year that begins in July, a reduction of about $2 million from the current budget. He wants to use the savings to help create a new state program that distributes money for family planning services to organizations that do not perform abortions, a move that would remove state dollars for Planned Parenthood.

Branstad’s office has insisted that foster care would not see a reduction in money, though other preventive programming for at-risk youth may see a reduction.

Christine Branstad, the governor’s wife, made brief remarks at a presentation from the groups that were seeking more financial support, though she didn’t take a position on any legislative matters.

Corey Anderson, a 19-year-old from Cedar Rapids, said he has benefited from state dollars aimed at Iowa’s child and family services. He called any reduction in spending a bad idea, saying it would cause an influx of more young people into the foster care and juvenile court systems.

“You may be taking money off of this side, but you’re going to be increasing how much money you need on the other side,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Linley Sanders contributed to this report.

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