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Iowa Legislature Passes Bill Limiting State Auditor’s Access to Records

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correction

An earlier version of this section incorrectly stated that the bill would prohibit the state auditor from accessing certain records unless the audited agency “agrees that the information is necessary for the purposes of the audit.” audit”. This specific wording was removed from the final version of the bill. Under the bill, a state agency being audited can still challenge the need for records requested by the state auditor. This article has been corrected.

Republican lawmakers in the state of Iowa have passed a bill that would limit the state auditor’s access to certain documents — a move the auditor says is aimed at crippling the office of the only elected statewide Democrat from Iowa and could put $12 billion in federal funding to Iowa at risk.

The Iowa Senate passed its final version of the bill Wednesday night in a 33-16 vote, a week after the Iowa House passed it in a 55-41 vote. , with six Republicans joining the Democrats in opposition. The bill is now heading to the office of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) to be signed into law.

The bill would prohibit the state auditor from accessing a wide variety of documents such as personal income tax returns, criminal records from law enforcement agencies, student records, hospital and law enforcement investigation reports – unless it is to comply with “federal or state regulations”. , or in the event of alleged or suspected embezzlement or theft”. An agency could still dispute that the information requested by the state auditor is necessary for the purposes of an audit.

The bill would also use a three-person arbitration board in the event of a dispute over whether a state agency should provide documents to the auditor’s office. The arbitration board would be made up of a member from the state agency in question, the auditor’s office, and the governor’s office.

Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand said this system would effectively give state agencies a two-vote veto over any documents they did not want to provide, since the office of the governor is responsible for what happens in state agencies.

“Everyone in the state understands that. It’s not complicated,” Sand said at a press conference last Thursday, after the House passed his version of the bill. “If you let a state agency decide what the auditor’s office can review, how often are they going to let [the auditor] find waste, fraud and abuse? »

Republican state lawmakers have argued that the bill is necessary to protect the personal information of Iowa residents and is a response to privacy concerns stemming from a 2021 lawsuit in which the Supreme Court of Iowa ‘Iowa has decided that the State Auditor’s Office may subpoena the University of Iowa for information. linked to a public service contract.

“We in no way, in my opinion, leave fraud unchecked,” said Iowa State Rep. Michael Bergen (R).

Sand pushed back against that reasoning, arguing that Iowa law and standard auditing practices already dictate that auditors in his office must adhere to privacy practices. His office has never had a privacy breach, he added, and no one has approached him in the two years since the 2021 trial to express privacy concerns.

“A prankster here wants to convince everyone that this somehow has nothing to do with the fact that I’m the only Democrat elected statewide,” said Sand, who was elected for the first time in office in 2018 and was re-elected in November. to a second term. “I don’t think there’s a single Iowan who doesn’t see through this.”

Sand also warned that $12 billion in federal funding in Iowa could be at risk if state auditors fail to comply with Federal Government Accountability Office auditing standards, according to an analysis by the service agency. Iowa’s nonpartisan legislature.

In a letter opposing the legislation, former US Comptroller General David Walker – who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton – said the bill would “effectively reduce the independence and nonpartisan approach necessary for the Iowa State Auditor’s Office to be fully effective.

Republicans hold a supermajority in the Iowa state legislature and this session passed bills aimed at restricting access to federal food aid and rolling back child labor protections.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley — the grandson of longtime Republican U.S. state senator Charles E. Grassley — recently championed a series of bills targeting the LGBTQ community, saying lawmakers of Iowa acted with “common sense”.

“We introduced some of these bills on our priority list very early in session,” Grassley said last month. “A lot of the bills that we work on, we consider the concerns of Iowans across the state and try to figure out how we have the best policies.”

Annie Gowen contributed to this report.

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