Capitol Update

Problems Continue to Plague Unopened Fort Madison Prison

Over a year after the Iowa State Penitentiary at Fort Madison was scheduled to open, the prison sits empty. Guards patrol the perimeter and inside of the buildings, lights are on and electric bills are being paid but there is still no set date to transfer prisoners. As costs continue to rise, the House Oversight Committee continues to seek answers and find solutions to this seemingly endless problem.

After two inmates escaped the maximum security prison in 2005, plans were created for a new, state of the art prison. In 2008, the estimated construction cost of the prison was

$130.7 million, and in October of 2013 a ribbon cutting was held. Since that time the new prison has faced multiple equipment problems and design flaws that have prevented the prison from being occupied.

In late 2013, prison officials found problems with the geothermal system. Pumps installed with the geothermal system were found to be the wrong size in many buildings and corrective changes had to be made. These changes could cost the state $6.7 million. As of today, the geothermal systems have been fixed and Department of Corrections Officials believe they will continue to work.

After geothermal issues were fixed, the prison failed a required smoke evacuation test. In order to receive a certificate of occupation from the fire marshal, smoke must be able to be cleared through the ventilation system. Unlike a regular building, windows cannot simply be opened in a prison to clear smoke. The solution for this problem has yet to be found, but approximately $350,000 has been spent to design and test solutions. The actual cost for the fix has yet to be determined, but it is expected to be costly. It is unclear who will pay for these changes.

Two additional problems have also been brought to light in the past few months. Air leaks in some of the buildings have required water to be shut off when temperatures dropped. Officials are working to find the air leaks and a solution to the problem. As of now, there is no estimated cost for repair to these air leaks. Additionally, there are more problems with the ventilation system, separate from the smoke-clearing problems. There is no estimated time or cost for these repairs.

Almost a year and a half after the projected opening date, there is still no end in sight to the problems at Fort Madison. The House Government Oversight Committee has continued to review documents sent by the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Corrections. Unfortunately, there is no quick solution to these problems but the Oversight committee is working to ensure these issues never happen again in a public project and that the parties responsible for these problems cover the costs and not the Iowa taxpayer.

Prayer in the House

Many of you have contacted me in the last few weeks about a Wiccan leading the prayer in the House. A Wiccan from Cedar Rapids did present an invocation on Thursday this week. She was the guest of Rep. Liz Bennett of Linn County. I have thought a lot about this, conducted some research, and wanted to share my conclusions.

The Constitution was founded on the idea of religious freedom. The Founding Fathers recognized the importance of anyone being able to worship who or how they want. The first amendment must be upheld in situations like this.

Wiccan is a form of Paganism. Wiccans base their beliefs on living in harmony with one’s environment and community. They don’t worship devils or demons. They worship deities of earth and nature. Pagans often uphold a close relation with the earth, seeing all nature as sacred and alive with the Devine presence.

I was reminded that none of us have “rights” as legislators except by virtue of your elected office. Thus, the act of inviting someone to open the Iowa Legislature in Prayer is a privilege delegated ultimately by the citizens through the Legislature and is not a private “right” of the Representative. We are indeed REPRESENTATIVES of the people and must ask ourselves, “Does this action show respect to the faith and the will of Iowa citizens?”

How, then, should Christian legislators react? I was encouraged to walk out of the chamber before the Wiccan did her prayer, as a sign of my disapproval. However, wisdom tells me that this would have brought too much attention to this event and fuel the engines of those who would use this incident as a case for eliminating prayer all together. Supporters of the Wiccan prayer wanted Christian legislators to say no, to walk out and cause a scene. Doing that would have threatened lawsuits with goal being to get rid of the prayer all together. I do not want that.

I received an email that encouraged legislators bow their heads in silence before the Wiccan is introduced and remain in prayer to God with heads bowed during her entire prayer, asking The Lord to come against the powers of the Devil, to free the legislative process from the destructive forces of human sin, and to forgive us individually and corporately for the times we have been faithless and forgetful of His many blessings.

By being silently in prayer to God, we are bearing witness to our Faith and not causing offense to others. So that is the route I took as the Wiccan did her opening prayer.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about these topics or any others please feel free to contact me by e-mail at lee.hein@legis.state.ia.us or by phone at (515) 281-3221.

Sincerely,

Rep. Lee Hein

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Pictured  above are Iowa Corn Growers members with Rep. Quentin Stanerson and I.

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Delaware County Farm Bureau and I in the House chamber.

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