March 11, 2018 Newsletter

Vol. 9 #4 March 11, 2018

 Do as I Say

The Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee was late starting on February 28th because Iowa Senate Democrats were holding a caucus meeting in Room 24, while their Republican counterparts were down the hall in Room 22.  These closed governmental meetings called caucuses are where legislative decisions are made.  Regular committee and subcommittee meetings are scheduled and held to publicly perform caucus conclusions.  The House Chamber follows this same system.  The Iowa legislature passes laws that require political subdivisions, like cities, counties, and school boards, to conduct business in the open through a thick series of laws addressing open meetings and public records.  It doesn’t have to lead by example.

The caucus isn’t just for decision making, it serves as a support group for frustrated legislators to air their disappointments, and it also can serve as a delay tactic for passing controversial legislative bills both at the committee level and prior to debate in the chamber.  The consequence of this deeply engrained system is losing sight of representing the needs of the constituents.  The needs of the caucus have usurped the needs of the constituents.

One poor constituent visited the Iowa Capitol a few years ago to observe a Senate Judiciary meeting, not aware of the dramatic difference between legislative branch meetings and other governmental meetings operating in the open.  She was so excited to watch her government at work.  When the legislators scampered off to caucus, she turned to me deeply confused.  Fifty minutes later, they returned and voted out of committee a number of legislative bills with no meaningful discussion.  Watching this woman go from pumped up enthusiasm to utter and complete deflation continues to haunt me.

The “do as I say, not as I do” theory isn’t restricted to the legislative branch of government. When Jerry Bartruff, director for the Department of Corrections (DOC), marched into the Justice Systems Appropriations meeting with the usual entourage of correctional upper management in tow, he was PowerPoint presentation prepared for maintaining the myth that “everything is rosy” in the land of corrections.  The “do as I say” message from the governor’s office is very clear.  Don’t deviate from the proposed budget.  The DOC has had its budget slashed by millions, resulting in public safety concerns.

Although Bartruff dutifully fulfilled the executive branch’s decree, even miming the newest buzz words “data driven” decision making, the presentation became an excellent example of how data can be crafted to paint various pictures, depending on the argument.

His comments encompassed a number of issues:

  • DOC conducted a staffing analysis and now are getting rid of staff that wasn’t important. He coined the term “evidence-based staff”, meaning getting the right people by evaluating each for specific competencies and attributes.
  • The Department is shifting beds and staffing and also looks toward shifting classifications.
  • 73% of the funding goes to prisons—DOC wants to shift money to community-based-corrections.
  • Iowa’s violent crime rate is on a slow but steady rise. FBI data shows a rise in violent crime in rural areas, while going down in metro areas.
  • The 3 million-dollar grant for recidivism reduction was used for staff training.
  • An increase in use of tele psychiatry and tele medicine is a financial plus for the correctional budget.
  • The prison population is aging. As the age of the inmate goes up, so do the medical costs.
  • Focusing resources on recidivism reduction. Risk evaluation tied to needs.
  • The DOC toolkit is well-stocked with data-driven tools such as:

Validated Risk Assessment

Risk proficiency

Gap analysis/ cost-benefit programs

Staffing analysis and workload studies

Reclassified prisons for optimal outcomes

Evidence-based job descriptions

Despite the attempt to portray a well-organized strategy, a number of subcommittee members weren’t buying into the vast amount of jargon and gently questioned him on the data.

Rep. Gary Wortham (R-Storm Lake), Co-chair, requested that slide 13 break out the numbers to show the correctional staff that has direct contact with the offenders.

Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) stated that he was deeply concerned.  Crime is up and recidivism is up.  Five hundred people a year are returning to the system. He feels that the reduction in staff is related to the recidivism.  “Why are we seeing an increase in correctional officers being attacked?”  He wants the data in the presentation scaled accurately denoting the 18.7% reduction in correctional officers and the 4% inmate reduction.  If “this legislature doesn’t fund them, this legislature is responsible for the victims in crime.”

Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), Co-chair, wanted to know why the DOC chose the specific states on slide 4 representing how Iowa was safer in comparison to “our neighbors’”incarceration rates (Missouri, South Dakota, Indiana, Illinois and Kansas).  Why not Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska?

Rep. Marti Anderson (D-Des Moines) stated that “data helps to direct us, but there’s a human factor” and she’s very concerned about recidivism.

Sen. Julian Garrett (R-Indianola) felt that recidivism going up made sense.  More people are being paroled, so wouldn’t you expect recidivism to also go up?

Rep. Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton) the House ranking member, is worried about the funding being taken away with the staff assaults.

Sen. Robert Dvorsky (D-Coralville), the Senate ranking member, ended the question and comment part of the presentation by relating what a great job the DOC is doing.  He had heard that Bartruff was going to retire.

The meeting ended on a positive note and the budgetary discussions will take place, behind closed doors, of course.

 Rolling Logs

The Iowa Legislature has a process of eliminating certain bills from the in-box so that it can move on to more important issues, like the budget.  It’s called the funnel, and there are two of them.  The 2nd funnel occurs at the end of this week.  With several exceptions, a policy bill that fails to pass out of a committee in both chambers is ineligible for debate on the floor for the rest of the session.  As we mention often: A bill may become ineligible, but an issue NEVER dies!

A few bills that are of interest to Justice Reform Consortium and are theoretically alive as of this date:

House File 2395 – An Act relating to the criminal elements and penalties for the commission of sexual misconduct with offenders and juveniles and including effective date provisions.  This bill was requested by JRC.  It passed out of the House Public Safety Committee on Thursday, Feb. 15.  This bill must pass the House and survive passage from a subcommittee and standing committee in the Senate before Friday in order to stay alive.  JRC SUPPORTS this legislation.  In the recent issue, we reported that this bill had been amended prior to passing out of committee.  That information was incorrect.  See our disclaimer below. HF 2394 – An Act relating to criminal acts committed on or against critical infrastructure property and providing penalties.  JRC OPPOSES.  This bill provides for a class “B” felony and a fine of $85,000 to 100,000 for “critical infrastructure sabotage”.  JRC has expressed concerns that the fine could be considered an “excessive fine” in certain circumstances and violative of the Eighth Amendment[1].

“Critical infrastructure sabotage” means any unauthorized act that is intended to cause a substantial interruption or impairment of service rendered to the public relating to critical infrastructure property. However, “critical infrastructure sabotage” does not include an accidental interruption or impairment of service rendered to the public caused by a person in the performance of the person’s work duties.”

What do you think?  Does this language include a Labor strike?  A possible protest protected by the First Amendment?  Someone running into an electric pole that knocks out power for a large portion of a city?  We consider the language vague and overbroad.

See also Senate File 2235.  Both HF 2394 and SF 2235 are funnel-proof.  That means that the issue (either bill) is eligible for debate in its respective chamber until the very last day of the session.

Senate File 2382 is an Act modifying criminal code provisions relating to criminal records, penalties, prosecutions, appeals, driving privileges, and postconviction relief, and including effective date provisions.  We wrote about this in the last issue of the JRC Newsletter.  To our surprise, this bill passed easily out of the Iowa Senate with very little opposition or amendments.  JRC strongly OPPOSES this bill.  Please thank Senators Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) and Rich Taylor (D-Mount Pleasant) for having the courage to oppose this ogre of a bill.  JRC believe this bill includes the constitutionally-prohibited act of logrolling.

House Joint Resolution 2010 and Senate Joint Resolution 2010:  These two pieces of legislation would start the process of amending the Iowa Constitution to include a victims’ rights amendment.  Called Marsy’s Law, JRC OPPOSES this measure.

SF 2280, formerly SSB 1177 – An Act relating to law enforcement profiling by standardizing collection and centralizing the compilation and reporting of officer stop and compliant data, providing for officer training, creating a community policing advisory board, providing for penalties and remedies, and including effective date provisions.  Anti-Racial profiling.  This bill made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without amendments and is eligible for debate in the Senate soon.  Please contact your state senator and urge your senator to support this bill.  JRC proudly SUPPORTS this bill.

SF 2117.  An Act relating to public funding and regulatory matters and making, reducing, transferring, and supplementing appropriations for expenditures in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017, and including effective date provisions.  JRC is not declared on this bill.  It is a bill of interest, however, in that it cuts $3,405,688 from the Department of Corrections budget from now through the 30th of June.  Other than the Regents and the Dept. of Human Services, this is the biggest cut out of the budget.  For comparison, The Economic Development Authority is cut a paltry $132,000.

This list could be bigger, but it’s best to keep it manageable.  Let us know if there is a bill that interests you.  We’ll do what we can to incorporate it into future reports.******************************************

CORRECTION:  In the February 18 issue of the JRC Newsletter, we reported that HF 2266 – An Act relating to the restoration of the rights of citizenship, and providing for a contingent effective date, failed to pass the Legislature’s 1st funnel deadline.  That is incorrect, and we thank Rep. Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton) for bringing to our attention.  HF 2266 did pass out of the Judiciary Committee and has been renumbered as HF 2429.  However, it was amended to provide for an interim study committee on the matter.  JRC remains in SUPPORT of this bill.

If you spot incorrect information, please let us know.  We strive to produce an accurate account of legislative activity in Iowa as it pertains to criminal justice.  We may make a mistake from time to time, but we admit our infallibility and work to give you a newsletter that we hope will inform you on issues not covered by mainstream media or other outlets.

[1] Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted