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Senators advance plan for Iowa juvenile facility

Published: Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 10:51 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — A bill that would establish a state facility for delinquent girls advanced in the Iowa Senate on Wednesday, but a key backer expressed reservations about the legislation’s future because it did not win bipartisan support.

The Senate Human Resources Committee approved the bill in a party-line vote with eight Democrats in favor and five Republicans opposed. The legislation was originally designed to reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo, but now just says there must be a state-run facility for delinquent girls.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said he was disappointed the bill did not earn Republican votes and pledged to keep working for compromise with fellow senators and with lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state House.

“We need co-operation. We need to put the kids first,” said Bolkcom.

Gov. Terry Branstad closed the Iowa Juvenile Home on Jan. 15 following allegations that teens were improperly treated at the center, which housed some of Iowa’s most troubled girls. The treatment of children at the center came to light after an investigation by the advocacy group Disability Rights Iowa and stories by The Des Moines Register. They reported that physical restraints were used on children and that staffers relied on isolation cells.

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, was among the Republicans opposing the bill. He argued that the bill still raises the prospect of reopening the home in Toledo.

“As we went into these discussions, there was kind of an agreement that we would not speak to location, we would speak to accreditation,” Johnson said.

The closing has prompted a legal tug-of-war. Four Democratic lawmakers also joined with the head of the state’s largest employees’ union in filing a lawsuit against Branstad and Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer, seeking to keep the home open. A district judge recently ruled in their favor, but Branstad has appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

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