The 2008 Iowa Legislature is set to convene a week from today. One decision they’ll face is whether to build a new state prison. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says lawmakers will review a recommendation to replace the state’s maximum security prison.
"Everybody recognizes we have an antiquated prison in Fort Madison and it is time to replace it with a more modern, staff-efficient prison," Gronstal says. Lawmakers will be presented with a consultant’s report that also reviews the overcrowded women’s corrections system.
"I think we have a significant shortage of facilities for women offenders in this state and so I think we also need to make some changes at Mitchellville," Gronstal says. The state prison for women is in Mitchellville. Expansion of the existing system or even construction of a brand new prison is by no means a sure thing according to House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City.
"Whether or not we build a new prison — that’s something that may be debated, but frankly I don’t think that’s the top, pressing issue that we need to deal with," Rants says. Rants — the Republican leader — contends devising a fix for the state’s property tax system is a higher priority, while Gronstal — the Democratic leader — says maintaining progress on teacher pay and other education issues is at the top of the list for Democrats. Democrats hold a majority of seats in the legislature, so they get to set the debate agenda.