Confidential settlement agreements with former state employees continue to be discussed in the Iowa Senate. A story reported last week in the Des Moines Register revealed employees received money to keep the details about the termination of their employment private. This resulted in a backlash because the state used taxpayer money to keep these agreements confidential.
When these agreements were brought to the attention of the Legislature and the Governor, Governor Branstad took swift action by issuing Executive Order 85. The order prohibits the use of confidentiality agreements and requires settlement agreements be posted online. The executive order ensures all settlement agreements are transparent during the Branstad administration.
However, an executive order is not state law. It is only guaranteed as long as Governor Branstad is in office. A future governor can change the policy once elected. The best way to protect taxpayers going forward is for the Legislature to make the executive order permanent by writing it into state law.
Earlier this week, the Iowa House passed House File 2462, which would put Executive Order 85 into state code. Several important provisions would be made permanent if this bill were to pass. It would shine light on future settlements for state employees by prohibiting confidentiality agreements and require public disclosure of the reason for the termination of state employees.
These secret settlements, which have occurred for many years under multiple governors from both political parties, are a practice that should never have happened. In any organization, including government, there will be adversity. One defining characteristic of leadership is how a leader responds to adversity. In the case of these settlements, Governor Branstad responded quickly and decisively, issuing Executive Order 85 ending the practice. After additional information was brought forward, which contradicted the testimony of the Director of the Department of Administrative Services who signed off on the settlement agreements in question, the governor fired the director. The Iowa House also took action immediately, passing House File 2462 to make the executive order permanent.
Unfortunately, there has been a glaring lack of leadership in the Iowa Senate. Senate Democrats control the agenda in the chamber and have shown more interest in politicizing this issue than correcting the problem. For 27 days, we have endured many speeches from the other side of the aisle, but have seen no action to remedy this situation by making the executive order permanent.
It is time Senate Democrats stop playing Washington D.C. style politics, and begin governing like they were elected to do. It is time to permanently put an end to confidential settlement agreements in state government by passing House File 2463.
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