Unemployment Appeals Administrator Leaves in Iowa Shakeup

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The new director of Iowa Workforce Development is cutting ties with a longtime agency employee who was recently named head of the division that oversees unemployment insurance disputes. Director Beth Townsend told employees Monday she will follow guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor and make the job overseeing administrative law judges available only to lawyers. The job is being posted Monday. Townsend says 26-year employee Steve Slater has left the department. Slater was promoted to the administrator job months ago by then-director Teresa Wahlert but isn’t a lawyer. Continue Reading

Illinois House Panel Grills Rauner Budget Director Over Cuts

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois House members want Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget office to provide a detailed list of program cuts and the criteria used to make those decisions. House Speaker Michael Madigan formed the budget oversight panel after Rauner suspended $26 million in social services and public health grants as part of his push to reduce a $1.6 billion shortfall in the state budget. Lawmakers requested the documents during a Tuesday morning meeting. Lawmakers in March passed a plan to plug the gap that included cuts and transfers from special state funds. Continue Reading

JOBS

Unemployment Drops Again in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A state report released Tuesday shows Iowa’s unemployment rate dropped for the third-straight month this year, down to 4.0 percent in March. Iowa Workforce Development data shows the rate improves upon February’s 4.1 percent and the March 2014 rate of 4.4 percent. It is also under last month’s national average of 5.5 percent. Iowa lists approximately 1.65 million people as employed in the state, 600 more than in February and 25,500 higher than last year. The report also shows the education and health services sector posted the most job gains in March with an increase of 2,300. Continue Reading

Clinton’s Use of Gas Tax Funds for Personnel Decried by Governor

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad says it would be a “mistake” for an eastern Iowa city to use additional fuel tax revenue to hire staff instead of spending directly on road and bridge work. Branstad says Monday the proposal from Clinton city officials “violates” the spirit of the fuel tax increase, approved by lawmakers this session. The move raised Iowa’s fuel tax by 10 cents to finance infrastructure work. The Clinton Herald reports the City Council is considering using nearly half of $470,000 in additional money to hire three employees, whose work would include street repairs. State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Andrea Henry says the agency encourages local governments to use the money for infrastructure needs, but it’s a local decision. Continue Reading

Small Plane Crashes in Eastern Iowa, None Injured

INDEPENDENCE, Iowa (AP) — A small plane spun off the runway while landing in Independence over the weekend, but everyone aboard walked away unharmed. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reports a strong crosswind may have been a factor in the Saturday morning crash. The Cessna 195 spun around as it touched down and veered off into the grass. The plane sustained damaged to its left wing and landing gear, but all four people aboard were unharmed. Continue Reading

Medical Marijuana Bill gets Senate Approval

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A plan to expand access to medical marijuana has won approval in the Democrat-majority Senate, but the legislation is unlikely to move any further this year in the Legislature. The Senate voted 26-19 in favor of the bill Wednesday. The legislation would make medical marijuana available to people with certain chronic diseases. Those approved by a doctor could purchase marijuana products produced in Iowa and sold at state-licensed dispensaries. The legislation moves to the Republican-controlled House, where leaders have expressed little interest in the bill. Continue Reading

Iowa DHS Chief Wins Confirmation Despite MHI Closures

The director of the Iowa Department of Human Services has won senate confirmation to stay in the job, despite complaints from some senators about controversial closings of state-run Mental Health Institutions in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant and the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. DHS chief Chuck Palmer was confirmed for another four-year term in the job by a vote of 39 to 11. Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, calls the closings illegal because the legislature never approved them. “So this is a gut check moment for this body,” Hogg said. “I think it is essential that we say, ‘No, we are not going to tolerate lawbreakers as directors of our departments.'”

Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, says Palmer is a “compassionate” and stable leader. Continue Reading

Iowa Senate Dems Set Budget Goals

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Leaders in the Democratic majority Senate are offering their overall budget outline, which includes a proposed state employee early retirement program. Senate Democrats released their budget targets Tuesday. Their overall spending goal is similar a proposal by Gov. Terry Branstad, at roughly $7.3 billion. But some of the details are different. Democrats want more K-12 education spending than Branstad has proposed. Continue Reading

Illinois Lawmakers Call for Analysis of Rauner Pension Plan

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Two Illinois lawmakers instrumental in crafting pension overhaul legislation in 2013 are calling for an analysis of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to reform the state’s underfunded pension system. Democrats Rep. Elaine Nekritz and Sen. Daniel Biss say they plan to file a resolution asking to put the Republican governor’s plan under “rigorous scrutiny.” Rauner has suggested moving workers to a less-generous pension plan than lawmakers approved in 2010 for new hires. Workers hired before 2011 could choose to move to a 401(k)-style plan. Continue Reading