Branstad: paid-leave bill ‘only fair’


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Gov. Terry Branstad said it’s “only fair” state employees convicted of felonies be required to pay back the salaries they earned while on paid administrative leave.

“I think there should be a penalty for that, and to say that they could go on for months, maybe even years, to be getting paid a very lucrative salary and then they’re convicted of a crime, to me that just doesn’t sound fair,” Branstad told The Daily Iowan on Tuesday in Des Moines. “I don’t think it’s fair to the taxpayers.”

Branstad’s comments were regarding House File 493 — conceived after several high-profile charges against University of Iowa employees — which would force all city, county, and state employees convicted of a Class D felony or higher to give back the money earned while on leave.

The bill originally targeted teachers and university employees, but it has since been expanded.

Branstad noted he has not taken an official stance on the legislation, but he spoke generally in favor of it.

The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the amended bill, and it is set to be debated soon in the full Senate.

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“What’s sold here is the basic concept that, if you’re put on leave because you committed a crime, the taxpayers won’t owe you a salary,” said Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, a sponsor of the bill.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Iowa City, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said the amendment was created to prevent officials from targeting teachers.

He said he thinks the bill will also pass the Senate because many there disagree with using taxpayers’ dollars for those on paid administrative leave.

The bill was created after what some legislators felt was a lengthy termination process for UI Assistant Professor Toshiki Itoh. Itoh was convicted in October 2010 of two counts of assault with intent to cause boldly injury. Itoh received an annual salary of $93,000 during his time of paid leave. In another case, Gary Hunninghake, a UI researcher and department head, is still on paid leave with an annual salary of $360,000, even after he plead guilty to charges of filing false reports to Chicago police while being investigated by UI police. He was never charged in Iowa City.

Mary Burke, a UI registered nurse and Service Employees International Union 199 member, said she’s worried about the potential law.

“Personally, I think that anytime if you believe someone is guilty then you act on that through your own assessment,” she said. “Fire them if you want them fired, don’t suspend them.”

Kaufmann said that while events at the UI prompted the bill, it isn’t aimed at only institutions, one reason he supports the Senate’s amendment. The bill’s current form would even apply to state legislators and Branstad himself.

Institutions would be held responsible for collecting the money as well as any repercussions that would arise if an employee was not able to pay back the salary.

Kaufmann is not aware of any other states with a similar law.

Iowa City and Johnson County officials said they weren’t yet familiar with the pending legislation and weren’t sure how it would directly affect their employees.

“As far as getting the money back — I see their intent,” said Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil. “I certainly think that if they make this for all public employees, they should certainly be included as well.”

Lora Shramek, a Johnson County human-resources administrator, said she understands why legislators are considering the bill.

“I would support it because it’s taxpayer money,” she said.

Iowa City Assistant City Manager Dale Helling said city officials haven’t discussed the bill, but if it passes, the City Council would likely address it in some manner.

Kaufmann said he is positive on the fate of the bill.

“A lot of laws are a solution to a problem and also send a message of that state,” he said. “I think that does both.”

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