Long public hearing over plan to shrink number of state boards

DES MOINES — Nearly 70 people have weighed in during a two-and-a-half hour public hearing about a proposal to streamline state licensing and either consolidate or eliminate about 100 state boards and commissions.

West Virginia University economics professor Edwin Timmons, one of the first to testify, told the panel considering the changes that Iowa requires a license or certification for too many professions and it limits job opportunities for low income Iowans. “Consumers have access to a wealth of information at their fingertips with online reviews,” Timmons said. “Research consistently shows that online reviews are more useful to consumers engaged in quality than licensing.”

Samantha Groark, executive director of the Central Iowa Construction Trades Council, represents 15,000 licensed tradesmen and women and she responded later in the hearing. “I can’t believe I heard…we could simply go to online reviews and rely on Yelp to ensure we have properly trained and licensed people in the electrical, plumbing and other industries,” Groark said.

Elevator manufacturers and people who operate boiler systems that heat major facilities like public buildings and factories say proposed changes in the boards that oversee their professions threaten public safety.

“Our major concern is eliminating or consolidating the input and guidance of regular citizens who are often experts in the field will further tip the scale of public input and soon only those who can afford lobbyists will have a voice in this state,” said Iowa Federation of Labor secretary-treasurer Peter Hird.

Iowans have until September 17 to submit written comments about the proposed changes. A review committee set up by the government reorganization bill Governor Reynolds signed this year has until September 30 to draft a final set of recommendations.

During Wednesday’s public hearing at the statehouse, licensed psychologists, social workers and chiropractors objected to eliminating boards that oversee their professions and shifting that oversight to other boards. An advisory council created by bill that became law this summer may be on the chopping block. Bethany Gates of the Iowa Midwives Association said it’s a setback for midwives who planned to apply for a license.

“When we look at states that implement midwife licensure, when you put those boards under other governance aside from midwives they end of limiting the scope of practice,” Gates said, “leading to midwives leaving the state.”

Others warned elimination of the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service and revoking Iowa’s membership in a regional higher education board will cost the state millions in federal funding. Court reporters say the plan eliminates certification for their profession. Representatives of the state’s 1100 licensed athletic trainers say the plan eliminates their state licensing board and a different board may eliminate or downgrade the professional requirements for athletic trainers. Vic Miller, president of the Iowa Athletic Trainers Society, said any changes would greatly affect his ability to travel with the men’s basketball team at Iowa State University.

“The Federal Sports Medicine Licensure Clarity Act signed into in 2018 by President Trump…allows me to practice in other states where I travel to as long as I have licensure or significantly similar licensing as the state I’m going to, I am allowed to lawfully practice there,” he said.

Andy Conlin, an Iowa based lobbyist who represents the Foundation for Public Accountability, was the first person to testify today. He said an overall review of state licensing requirements is long overdue. “We believe that limiting restrictions on work, more people are going to get into the workforce and Iowans are going to be more productive and our state is going to be economically improved,” Conlin said.

The review committee is also considering repeal of the state law that requires boards and commissions at all levels of government to have as close to an equal number of men and women as possible. Laura D’Agostino, an attorney with a California non-profit, said the committee and Governor Reynolds should ensure all Iowans are treated equally. “These laws prevent qualified Iowans from serving their local communities just because they’re the wrong gender,” she said.

Iowans who testified at the hearing denounced the idea. Katherine Farris, the Iowa co-president of the American Federation of University Women, said in 1987, Iowa led the nation in passing a gender equity law applying to state boards and commissions and it was extended to local boards in 2009. “The fact that this commission wants to negate years of work to secure the rights of women to be equal partners in governance is appalling,” Farris said.

Iowa law lets state and local officials who’ve made a good faith effort for 90 days to ignore the gender balance requirement — and there’s gender balance on two-thirds of boards and commissions today.

In January, Governor Reynolds told Radio Iowa the best people for government boards are those who “have a passion” for the work and she’s “never felt good” about the gender balance law. As a state senator in 2009, Reynolds voted against expanding the requirement to local government boards and commissions.