The chairman of the Oversight Committee in the Iowa House is planning a field trip to Fort Madison on Friday, January 23. Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, is heading the committee’s investigation of the long-delayed opening of the state’s new maximum security prison, built near the 176-year-old Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.
“It won’t be just a photo op,” Kaufmann says. “I’d like to spend a couple of hours touring both the old facility so I can get a better understanding of why we needed a new facility and so that I can see the new one.” The new prison was originally scheduled to open last spring, but a series of problems with the design of its heating and ventilating systems forced delays.
Kaufmann hopes to have at least six other legislators, from both political parties, tour the facility with him next week. In addition to meeting with officials from the Iowa Department of Corrections, Kaufmann hopes some of the contractors will be on site as well.
“I want to make it clear that this investigation is going to be fair, upfront and everybody is going to have an opportunity to put their input in,” Kaufmann says.
Governor Branstad told The Des Moines Register the investigation would be best handled by the Iowa attorney general’s office, since a lawsuit is in the works to try to recoup some of the money the state has spent fixing the problems.
“I completely disagree. The Oversight Committee is the investigative arm of the legislature. I don’t think there’s anything that’s more in our purview than this and I will proceed through the direction of my speaker with a thorough investigation of all of it,” Kaufmann says.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, delivered a speech in the Iowa House on Monday and publicly called for the committee to investigate why the prison hasn’t opened yet.