Lawmakers sue to halt closure of juvenile home

Two local legislators are part of a group that filed a lawsuit Thursday to halt the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.

The suit against Gov. Terry Branstad and Department of Human Services Director Chris Palmer on their decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo was filed in Iowa District Court for Polk County.

Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center, and Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, have joined AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan and fellow legislators Jack Hatch and Pat Murphy on the lawsuit in an attempt to keep IJH open.

“I’d like to see a reversal of the governor’s decision,” Smith said. “I think the home provides a vital service to children. We need a facility like this.”

Branstad announced last month that state officials will close the troubled facility by Jan. 16, relocate the children and lay off the staff of 93 employees. But the lawsuit argues that Branstad lacks the authority to shut down the home in Toledo because the Legislature appropriated money for the facility. The Iowa Juvenile Home made headlines over the past year for its treatment of students at the facility – including the use of seclusion rooms.

“Over the past few weeks, the public has heard many testimonials from girls who resided at the Iowa Juvenile Home,” Homan said. “These testimonials show how the staff of the Juvenile Home has made a positive difference in the lives of countless troubled Iowa youth. This lawsuit will hopefully allow the staff to be able to continue to carry on this important mission.”

Homan said it’s unconstitutional and unlawful for the governor to close IJH since the funding for the home is passed through the Iowa House and Iowa Senate and was approved by the governor himself.

Sodders has been one of the more vocal opponents of the closure and was glad they were able to take this step with the lawsuit.

“We think the governor overstepped his authority,” Sodders said. “He didn’t go through the Legislature.”

Sodders said it will next go through the court process.

“We’ll have to wait to see what the courts say,” Sodders said.

Jimmy Centers, spokesperson for Branstad, said the governor’s office had not yet seen the lawsuit as of Thursday afternoon and couldn’t comment on it directly.

“Gov. Branstad remains committed to doing what is best for these vulnerable children,” Centers said.