House approves paid-leave bill

BY SARAH BULMER | APRIL 19, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa House approved a bill Monday that would require public employees to pay back salary they receive while on paid leave if they are eventually convicted of a felony.

The proposal passed 95-1; it now goes to Gov. Terry Branstad.

Branstad and his spokesman haven't said whether he would sign it, but in an interview with The Daily Iowan earlier this month, Branstad said the bill is "only fair" and seemed to support it.

The bill — proposed after two high-profile cases of University of Iowa employees receiving full salaries while being investigated and tried for crimes — originally applied only to faculty and teachers, but the state Senate amended it to include all government officials, including legislators and Branstad.

Legislators agreed the bill is not made to deter crime.

"It has to do with not paying people for jobs they don't do," said Rep. Greg Forristall, R-Macedonia.
For Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, the bill is about fairness.

"This is about providing solid public policy, not revenge," he said.

Kaufmann said he's more than thrilled with the bill and its added amendment to include all public employees convicted of a Class D felony or higher.

"I never wanted this to be the 'University of Iowa professors-on-paid-leave bill,' " he said, and the people who initially brought the idea of repayment legislation to his attention were from the UI community.

The Senate unanimously passed the bill, and legislators praised the bipartisanship of the legislation.

However, lobbyists against the passage of House File 493 said the bill isn't practical.

"I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense for people to pay money back if they're not going to have the resources to do it," said Mary Gannon, a lobbyist from the Iowa Association of School Boards, who is against the bill.

She said the possible benefits of the bill are minimal.

"We don't have that many employees on paid leave who are convicted of crimes," Gannon said.
Kaufmann agreed, and he said he hopes the law will seldom be used.

"I do not believe that this [bill] will be used even once a year," he said.

"It was a bit ironic that the university had two cases in one year," he said, referring to the cases of Toshiki Itoh and Gary Hunninghake, two UI faculty members who were on paid leave.

Now, the bill goes to Branstad's office, where, officials say, the governor will most likely sign the legislation.

"[Branstad] would have a very, very difficult time explaining a veto with that much momentum behind [the bill]," Kaufmann said.

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