A Democratic state senator on Wednesday asked Republican Gov. Terry Branstad to provide specifics on incidents of elder abuse, child abuse and sexual misconduct involving state employees that the governor cited in comments to reporters earlier in the week.
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Senate colleagues during a floor speech that he was disturbed to read Branstad comments to reporters that state employees had been dismissed for incidents of elder abuse, child abuse and sexual misconduct that have gone unreported to the public due to employee confidentiality agreements and personnel protections in state law.
Asked during Monday’s weekly news conference how many incidents of abuse or assault by state employees are taking place, Branstad responded “I don’t know, but there are a lot of them.”
Hogg said the governor “laid down some very serious allegations” that beg for more information, so he wrote the governor’s office requesting details about the alleged incidents, when they happened and within which state agencies, as well was information on when the governor’s office was informed about the allegations and how the administration responded.
“It is unacceptable to have state employees, if it’s true, engaging in criminal conduct and it’s also unacceptable to not have that criminal conduct reported to the proper authorities,” Hogg said.
“We need to know for each incident when the governor’s office was informed and for each incident we need to know what the governor or his office did in response to the information that they were provided,” the state senator said.
“There are thousands if not tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Iowans who when confronted with allegations of child abuse, elder abuse or sexual abuse are under a legal obligation to report that to law enforcement authorities and I would certainly hope the governor’s office has met that standard,” Hogg added.
Officials in the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hogg’s request.
During his weekly news conference, Branstad called on state lawmakers to ease what he considered to be overly broad confidentiality protections for state employees who are dismissed or disciplined for inappropriate on-the-job action.
Branstad told reporters it is not enough to prohibit secret employment settlements from taking place as he directed last week in an executive order. “I want to see us go further and also require the reasons for the dismissal also to be made public,” he added, noting that some workers are have been cited for incidents of abusing elderly Iowans and children or for sexual misconduct that have not been publicly disclosed.
Branstad announced last week that his administration’s internal review found that 12 separate state agencies had entered into 24 secret settlement agreements with employees that carried a cost of at least $427,000 – a practice that he called unacceptable and declared would not happen again in his administration.
The governor signed an executive order that he said would increase accountability, openness and transparency of employee settlements. However, some of the information in the settlement documents has been redacted or the agreements give limited information regarding employment circumstances that preceded the action.
Branstad said Monday he believes the public has a right to know more of the information that attorneys representing state agencies have advised be redacted where it relates to personnel records based on past court decisions have interpreted what is to be treated as confidential under Iowa law.“The danger in that is (that) these individuals, who may be dangerous or violent, can then be rehired by another unsuspecting employer who does not know that information. The public has a right to know that and so that’s something I’m committed to,” the governor said.