Iowa’s only F grade on the State Integrity Investigation was in the category of public access to information, partly due to a lack of strong enforcement measures.
But Governor Terry Branstad signed a bill last week that would create the Iowa Public Information Board, a nine-member commission that will oversee and enforce the state’s open records laws. The governor noted that the lack of enforcement was highlighted by the State Integrity Investigation and affected Iowa’s overall grade. Iowa ranked 7th among the 50 states and earned an overall grade of C+.
“Hopefully this will move us up from [C+] to a better grade,” Branstad said at the signing on May 3.
On the scorecard’s public access information section, Iowa received low marks on questions about whether citizens could easily resolve appeals when requests are denied and whether there is an agency that effectively monitors the laws, initiates investigations, and imposes penalties on offenders.
Branstad hailed the creation of the new board as an “important and significant step forward” for government transparency and accountability. The board, which will consist of local advocates and journalists, will not only have the authority to hear complaints and negotiate settlements, but levy fines and order corrective action if necessary. Branstad said the board could be ready to operate July 1.
Good government advocates and journalists in Iowa applaud the new legislation, but also point out that the board would not have authority over the governor’s office, legislature, or judiciary. Most of its work, therefore, will involve state agencies of the executive branch.