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Legislature will boost budget for state prisons by $20 million

DES MOINES — Republicans in the Iowa legislature have agreed to a $20 million increase in the budget for the Iowa Department of Corrections. It’s the most sizable increase for the prison system in years and comes after two Anamosa prison employees were beaten to death by two inmates who’ve both been charged with their murders.

Representative Gary Worthan of Storm Lake and 52 other Republicans in the House voted for the plan shortly before one o’clock this morning.

“We have an agreement with the Senate,” Worthan said. “I think most of us would like to end this session and be on about our own business.”

Democrats in the House unsuccessfully tried to add more requirements to the plan. Representative Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids called for a federal investigation of the March 23 assaults and reports to the legislature on all investigations of the incident.

“Two public servants lost their lives — Officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte,” Bennett said. “We owe it to them to find out what happened.”

The House unanimously voted to make it state policy to extend health care coverage to the families of prison staff who are killed on the job. Republican Representative Lee Hein of Monticello represents the Anamosa area and found out the McFarland and Schulte families lost health care coverage April 1, nine days after the murders.

“The local community was taking up a collection to help support the families, so that they could purchase it through the COBRA,” Hein said, referencing the acronym for a federal law that gives workers and their families the right to purchase insurance through the group plans in their workplace for a period of time after they’ve been laid off or experienced some other life event.

State law already extends health care coverage to the families of fire fighters, police and state troopers who are killed on the job. Senate Republicans are expected to quickly approve the overall budget plan for the Iowa Department of Corrections and other criminal justice agencies in state government, perhaps sometime later today.

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