The task force appointed by the governor to recommend changes to Iowa’s laws regarding the employment of people with mental retardation held its first meeting today. Governor Culver established the task force following revelations that 21 mentally retarded workers lived in a susbstandard century-old building while working at an eastern Iowa turkey processing plant.

Members of the group are from seven state agencies, including John Hale the policy director for the Iowa Caregivers Association. Hale says he also hopes Iowans come away with a better understanding of people with disabilities by the end of the group’s work.

"If I take off my eyeglasses, for example, I suddenly become a person with a disability. I think that even though we have a horrendous issue here, a specific issue that needs to be addressed, the larger issue is how we think about and treat and interact with people with disabilities," Hale says.

Des Moines lawyer Mary McGee, who is legally blind, wonders how the state allowed such a case to occur. McGee says, "I would like to know where the Department of Inspections and Appeals was, I would like to know where the Department of Administrative Services was. I would like to know where the Attorney General’s office was. I want to know who dropped the ball."

The task force will meet once a week through March to listen to public comments and develop recommendations for how to improve Iowa laws to better protect disabled workers. Those recommendations are due on the Governor’s desk April 1st.