A state senator is accusing Governor Terry Branstad of creating a “constitutional crisis” in Iowa with his decision to close the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant without legislators’ approval. It’s time for the legislature “to stand up and assert itself,” according to Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids.

“I don’t remember the ballot initiative last November saying: ‘Who are you selecting for king or emperor of the state?'” Hogg said this morning during a speech on the Senate floor.

Over three dozen employees at the Mount Pleasant MHI got layoff notices today.

“Thirty-seven Iowans told this morning they’ve lost their jobs at a Mental Health Institute that Iowa law requires to be open and operated and apparently the governor doesn’t understand we live in a state that is governed by the law,” Hogg said, his voice rising in anger.

Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, said he wants to find a way to ensure acutely mentally ill Iowans are able to get adequate care.

“I know that we, as a body, can come together and do the right thing,” Zaun said. “We’ve got to put politics aside and yelling aside and we need to come together.”

Senator Rick Taylor, a Democrat, is from Mount Pleasant and his voice shook with emotion as he talked on the Senate floor this morning.

“I”m sad. I’m sad today,” Taylor said. “A friend of mine that works at the Mental Health (Institute) in Mount Pleasant texted me early this morning and said she’d received her layoff notice and I texted her back and I expressed my sympathy to her and she said she wasn’t worried about her. She was worried about all those people that needed her help.”

Layoff notices for workers at the Clarinda Mental Health Institute are expected to go out in April. Senator Liz Mathis, a Democrat from Robbins, said based on her research, it appears there’s been a plan for over a year to close the MHIs, but it wasn’t revealed until Branstad’s budget proposal was published in January.

“The director at Clarinda who was hired a year ago does not live anywhere close to the facility, is not a resident of that community and has been working there for a year,” Mathis said. “I’m sure she has done stellar work, but it appears she has just been doing work just for this very day — to close the facility.”

Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, chided Mathis.

“Mental health is one of our biggest challenges this session and we all need to work together,” Johnson said. “But if we’re going to be investigating as senators, we should refrain from using phrases like ‘it seems’ and ‘it appears’ which I’ve heard on the floor today. That’s a guess. That’s an educated guess. Let’s work on the facts.”

Governor Terry Branstad said in January that his administration won’t be violating state law if the Mental Health Institutes close, but “significant” prison operations and a military-style academy continue to operate on the MHI campuses in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.

“Gov. Branstad, on recommendation from DHS, proposed moving to two state institutions because it will mean better, more modern mental health care for Iowa patients,” Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for Branstad, said this morning in a written statement. “…The state has obligations to notify employees of reductions in force. The governor’s plan to provide modern mental health treatment calls for those in need to be cared for in accredited facilities. Today, Mt. Pleasant lacks a psychiatrist and the number of patients in both facilities continues to decrease. The governor is continuing to work with the Legislature on the plan providing a more modern mental health care system rather than a system designed for the 1800s.”