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Senate OKs plan to reopen juvenile home

Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 11:10 a.m. CST

DES MOINES (AP) — A divided Iowa Senate renewed its effort Monday to reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home, with a budget amendment designed to re-establish and improve programming at the Toledo facility.

Lawmakers voted 26-22 to approve the health and human services budget bill in a straight party-line vote, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against. It now returns to the Republican-controlled House, where a similar amendment was rejected last week.

“When you look at just the facts and forget about how we politically position ourselves, you cannot go anywhere other than understanding that there are girls in this state that have no other place to go,” said Sen. Jack Hatch, a Des Moines Democrat who’s running for governor. “If we do not provide this kind of treatment facility for them, we will be delinquent.”

The proposal attempts to reopen and revamp services at the home, which Gov. Terry Branstad closed Jan. 15 following allegations that delinquent girls were being mistreated and improperly educated.

An investigation by the advocacy group Disability Rights Iowa and stories by the Des Moines Register brought the mistreatment to light. They reported that staffers relied on cells and physical restraints.

Hatch said the plan accounts for the concerns that led to the facility’s closure. It sets the maximum number of delinquent girls who can be housed in the facility at any given time at 20, and it restructures educational programming to be consistent with standards outlined by Iowa’s Department of Education.

To implement the overhaul and reopening, the proposal calls for $4 million. An additional $1 million would go toward providing support and services to girls once they are discharged at age 18. The Toledo facility would reopen July 1, which Hatch said he believes is sufficient time to get it up and running again.

Jimmy Centers, a Branstad spokesman, says the governor won’t make a decision on the home’s reopening until it’s sent to his desk in its final form.