Plan would cut or merge 43% of Iowa boards and commissions

Review panel also calls for repealing gender-balance law
Iowa State Capitol Building
Posted at 3:46 PM, Sep 26, 2023

The state Boards and Commissions Review Committee will recommend the elimination or merging of 111 of Iowa’s 256 boards and commissions, reversing some planned changes following public feedback.

The committee, established by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ state agency restructuring plan, has a Sept. 30 deadline to submit its recommendations to the governor and state lawmakers. During their final meeting Monday, committee members shared which changes they plan to make following public input on their preliminary recommendations.

The overall 43% reduction of Iowa’s system of panels reflects most of the committee’s initial proposals. However, some changes came after professionals, advocates and panel members said the consolidation efforts could put funding at risk or leave Iowa out of compliance with federal law or industry standards.

Kraig Paulsen, director of the Iowa Department of Management and the committee’s chair, said the final proposals address some of the criticisms brought up in the public hearing earlier in September.

“As you’ve heard today, the outreach was important,” he said. “It impacted this final report. This committee listened to Iowans and made changes to its recommendations because of that dialogue. That’s how this is supposed to work.”

One of the changes was reversing a recommendation to eliminate the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service, also known as Volunteer Iowa. Advocates said eliminating the commission could risk millions in federal funding by putting Iowa out of compliance with the federal statute.

The federal law requires a commission to oversee AmeriCorps funding but also allows states to establish an “alternate structure” for distributing the grants. Rachel Bruns, chief engagement officer of America’s Service Commissions, said such a move would still result in a loss of funds, and would be subject to other requirements including federal approval and the creation of its own commission.

David Faith, deputy attorney general and member of the subcommittee that reviewed human services boards and commissions, said the committee originally made the recommendation because subcommittee members learned AmeriCorps funding could be administered through an “alternative administrative entity.” Faith said this belief was correct, but that keeping the commission as-is was prompted by public response.

“I don’t believe actually it is the case that the state would not have been able to get access to AmeriCorps funding,” Faith said. “However, we received a whole lot of feedback, and wanted to listen to Iowans about the existing commission doing its function.”

Other changes include recommendations to keep certain licensure panels operating, including the Iowa Board of Nursing Home Administrators and Iowa Board of Athletic Training.

The committee also proposed merging the Deaf Services Commission of Iowa with the Iowa Dual Party Relay Council, the group that oversees the dual relay service assisting deaf and hard of hearing Iowans when making calls. Paulsen said the proposed consolidation could be an “empowering change” for the deaf services panel by joining with a group with a funding mechanism dedicated to deaf services.

“I mean the Dual Party Relay has a funding stream — it’s a dedicated funding stream,” Paulsen said. “So it’s not like they can take that and use it for something else, at least not under the statutes today, but we just thought that makes sense.”

In addition to the consolidation of specific panels, the review committee also made recommendations on oversight of boards and commissions. It proposed a system to regularly review Iowa’s existing panels and to sunset advisory groups after two years. Committee members also moved forward with a recommendation to repeal Iowa’s gender-balance requirements for boards and commissions.

Current state law requires state and local government boards to have equal numbers of men and women serving. Paulsen has said the goal of the rule, enacted in 1987, has been met as most Iowa boards and commissions are “effectively” gender-balanced. The requirement also causes problems for other bodies such as the Electrical Examining Board, which faces difficulties finding women to serve, he said.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, was the only lawmaker to attend the committee’s last meeting as a nonvoting member. He criticized recommendations including the removal of gender-balance requirements, as well as the elimination of panels representing marginalized populations, such as the Latino Affairs Commission, Commission on the Status of Women and Youth Advisory Council.

These commissions give Iowans — especially underrepresented populations — an avenue to participate their government, he said.

“When I look at all these boards, and have for 20 years, yes, I would probably say most of them are lot of them probably aren’t needed, or don’t need to be standalone,” Bisignano said. “But I also think a lot of them are needed, and more so because it reaches out to Iowans. It reaches out to everyday Iowans, I hope.”

The committee plans to publicly release its final recommendations before the Sept. 30 deadline. Paulsen said to keep in mind these recommendations are not finalized — the Legislature would have to approve a bill before any restructuring could occur.

“So between now and when session starts, I hope Iowans continue this conversation,” he said.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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