Iowa Senate Ends Session with Controversial Vote

By Rod Boshart, The Gazette

DES MOINES – The Iowa Senate adjourned its 2014 session Friday morning after Democrats passed a resolution giving a legislative panel broad investigative power to look into alleged mismanagement and secret dealings by Branstad administration officials.

Senate Resolution 121 passed on a voice vote. Senators then adjourned the second session of the 85th General Assembly at 8:50 a.m.

Democrats said they authorized the Government Oversight Committee to issue subpoenas for witnesses to testify under oath to get answers in an ongoing probe of state government employment practices that included secret employee settlements with “hush money” payments. Republicans dismissed the exercise as partisan politics intended to aid Democratic Sen. Jack Hatch's gubernatorial campaign.

Senator Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said the extraordinary action was needed because lawmakers have been stonewalled and thwarted in their efforts to get an answer to the “most basic question” of who in state government authorized the payment of “hush money” intended to buy the silence of laid-off state employees.

“When government isn't working, the job of legislators is to find out what's gone wrong and propose policy that will fix it. It's obvious things have gone wrong in the Branstad administration,” Gronstal said during a floor speech.

“The Senate Oversight Committee needs to find out because Governor Branstad has stopped asking or answering questions,” he added.

No GOP senator spoke during the brief Senate floor debate, but Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock issued a statement after the Senate adjourned for the year saying Democrats are inviting a state constitutional crisis.

“We have reached a critical moment in our state,” said Dix, who noted the Senate should have adjourned when the House ended its work Thursday morning.

“Instead, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal decided to make a push that he claims was for ‘government transparency.' It was nothing of the sort. We now stand at a defining moment for our traditions, our principles, and our commitment to serve three million Iowans who trust us to do the right thing,” Dix said in a statement.

“This under-handed partisan move is not only dishonest, it is dangerous,” he added. It sets a precedent that jeopardizes how state government operates for generations to come. This is not transparency; it is a disruption of separation of powers that invites a state constitutional crisis. Senate Democrats want full subpoena power for the Oversight Committee for one glaring political reason: to throw a lot of mud against the wall and see what sticks.”

Gronstal said it Friday's resolution was about politics, Democrats would have demanded a record roll call rather than a voice vote for passage.

“The goal of this investigation is to find out what happened, how it happened, and, most importantly, suggest policy changes to prevent this from happening again,” he said. “The resolution before us is narrowly drafted. It is not a criminal investigation. The goal is not to convict people. The only goal is to find out what went wrong and how to fix it. To effectively reform state government, we need to first find out the truth of what happened and why. That's what the documents and the testimony under oath obtained through subpoena power will help us do.”

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, chairwoman of the Senate Government Oversight Committee, said she is still looking through 5,000 emails supplied to her by the state Department of Administration and more than 3,000 more are awaiting review by the Iowa Attorney General's Office for redactions before they are forwarded to the committee. She said she also is receiving information from people make more allegations about government improprieties so it will take some time before the committee decides who to call in for questioning and whether they will meet voluntarily to testify before the panel under oath.

Friday was the 110th calendar day of the 2014 legislative session and the 67th session day.

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