WATERLOO | Iowa Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, has a laundry list of adverbs to describe his disappointment with Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.
“This is on the governor’s shoulders. He has acted badly, unilaterally, unconventionally and possibly really destructively to the kids,” Hatch said during a recent stop in Waterloo.
Hatch is using more than just words, however, to undo what Branstad’s administration has done. Last week, he joined a group of 22 Senate Democrats to propose a bill that would reopen the facility and more clearly define its role and mission.
Hatch, who is also running for governor, said he intends for the legislation to get a full airing and discussion in the Senate. And as chairman of the budget subcommittee that would fund the juvenile home or the governor’s alternative proposal, he said he will ensure that happens.
“We’re not going to be leaving the Legislature until we have a resolution to this that all parties agree to,” Hatch said. “We can’t leave there without an agreement because the budget is too important, so this is not something that he (Branstad) can just walk away from.”
He also notes that Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, is among those who signed on to the legislation, and he decides what bills get debated on the Senate floor.
Hatch said Iowa Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Garwin, whose district encompasses the Iowa Juvenile Home, plans to introduce a companion bill in the House.
Whether the legislation will gain any other Republican supporters is complicated by the fact that Hatch is the likely challenger to Branstad, as the governor makes his sixth bid to lead the state.
“I have been working my entire political career to help kids, from health care to mental health to this, and I am just appalled by the governor’s action and some people will see that as … a political criticism of the governor, but I would say the same thing if this were my last year in the Senate without running for governor,” Hatch said.
Despite the legislation, though, Branstad stands by the decision to close the juvenile home.
“The focus needs to be on not protecting the institution but on protecting the rights of these kids,” Branstad said on the Iowa Public Television program “Iowa Press” last week.
Branstad said he’s concerned there’s too much emphasis on protecting the status quo and the building that has served Iowa's juveniles since 1920.
Hatch disagrees with Branstad’s premise, saying there’s anecdotal evidence that some of the young women who were living at the juvenile home have gone missing since the decision to close the facility. He said he’s looking into that issue.
“There’s no question that there has been inappropriate issues at the juvenile home, but we have to remember this is under his watch. He’s been governor for three years, and his way in dealing with it is to move the problem, not to fix it,” Hatch said. “The legislation we’re proposing is to fix it.”