Iowa governor says SC ruling could mean layoffs

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 19, 2012, 2:20pm



DES MOINES, Iowa (Legal Newsline) - The Iowa Supreme Court, in a ruling last week, called Gov. Terry Branstad's use of item vetoes unconstitutional.

Last July, Branstad item vetoed several provisions in Senate File 517, an appropriations bill passed in the final days of the legislative session.

At issue is $8.66 million the Legislature appropriated in section 15(3) for the operation of Iowa Workforce Development field offices.

The governor, without vetoing that appropriation, item vetoed section 15(3)(c), prohibiting the closure of field offices, and section 15(5), defining "field office" to require the presence of a staff person.

His accompanying item-veto message noted his purpose was to provide "enhanced benefits through maximum efficiencies" by replacing staffed field offices with numerous additional "virtual access point [computer] workstations" for the delivery of employment services to Iowans throughout the state.

Branstad also item vetoed section 20, which restricts IWD from spending any appropriated funds on the National Career Readiness Certificate Program, without item vetoing any of the several appropriations to IWD in Senate File 517.

The governor item vetoed similar provisions in the bill for the following fiscal year.

Plaintiffs Danny Homan, the president of Iowa Council 61 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, a state-employee union, and state lawmakers William A. Dotzler Jr., Bruce Hunter, David Jacoby, Kirsten Running-Marquardt and Daryl Beall sued in Polk County District Court.

They alleged the governor unconstitutionally item vetoed "conditions or restrictions" on the appropriations.

In December, the district court entered a split decision that upheld the item veto of section 20, but declared invalid the item veto of sections 15(3)(c) and 15(5).

Both sides appealed, and the state's high court granted expedited review.

The Court, in its Friday opinion, said the question is whether Branstad's item vetoes comply with article III, section 16 of the Iowa Constitution -- the item-veto amendment ratified by Iowans in 1968.

The justices admitted in their 20-page ruling that the case was not an easy one to decide.

"The legislature failed to use language in section 15(3) expressly conditioning the $8.66 million appropriation on the restrictions against closing staffed field offices," Justice Thomas D. Waterman wrote for the Court.

However, the justices concluded that the definition of "field office" in section 15(5) qualifies or restricts the $8.66 million appropriation in section 15(3)(b) "for the operation of field offices."

"Accordingly, the Governor could not veto section 15(5) without vetoing the accompanying appropriation in section 15(3)," Waterman wrote.

The Court also concluded that Branstad "impermissibly" item vetoed the restriction in section 20 on the use of IWD appropriations for the national certificate program.

"Simply stated, the legislature appropriated funds to IWD with strings attached, and our constitution does not permit the Governor to cut the strings and spend the money differently," Waterman wrote.

"The required remedy is to invalidate the following sections of Senate File 517: sections 15, 17, 18, 19 and 20 of division I and sections 61, 63, 64, 65 and 66 of division IV. The other sections of Senate File 517 affirmatively approved by the Governor remain in effect as enacted."

Friday afternoon, soon after the Court released its ruling, Branstad filed a motion to temporarily stay its decision, preventing layoffs of all IWD employees and "to continue the delivery of critical workforce services to Iowa's workers and the unemployed."

The governor said the Court's decision means no funding for all IWD offices, the workers compensation division, the labor division and the unemployment reserve fund.

"Those who brought the lawsuit, with this result, eliminated funding for our Workforce Development services," Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said in a statement.

"The governor's action today to stay the decision from this reckless lawsuit is intended to prevent layoffs and maintain these needed services for Iowa's workers and unemployed."

Albrecht said Branstad is "committed" to working with lawmakers to find a solution that restores funding and maintains Iowans' access to the services.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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