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Blind Iowans concerned about governor's proposal to appoint Department for the Blind director

blind man crossing street
Ben Churchill
Blind Iowans are expressing concerns about the governor's plan to streamline state government.

Blind Iowans are expressing concerns to lawmakers that the governor’s plan to streamline state government would lead to worse services for the blind community.

The director of the Iowa Department for the Blind is chosen by the Commission for the Blind. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill would change that so she would appoint the director.

“With this proposed legislation, the director will now be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor and be subject to Senate confirmation,” said Molly Severn, the lobbyist for Reynolds’ office. “If Iowans currently perceive a government official to be accountable to the governor, that official should be.”

Enrique Mejia of Des Moines, who is blind, said he is strongly opposed to that change. He said Iowa’s services for blind people are nationally recognized and made it possible for him to get a full-time job, which he described as one of his proudest moments.

“I can make money on my own,” Mejia said. “And to the governor’s office I say, do you know why? Because there were people who were blind who understood blindness, who told me it was okay to be blind.”

Mejia said he fears what would happen to services for blind Iowans if the department’s director isn’t chosen by people who understand blindness.

Several other blind Iowans shared similar concerns at House subcommittee hearings Wednesday and Thursday.

Scott Van Gorp, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, said the commission should continue to have the power to appoint and remove the IDB director.

“If it is left up to the governor or his/her designee, we can’t guarantee the level of services that blind Iowans are accustomed to today,” Van Gorp said. “We would not be able to guarantee the right to successful gainful employment, the right to proper training and techniques to live independently, the right to be productive members of society.”

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have expressed interest in removing that part of the bill and allowing the commission to continue choosing the director of the Iowa Department for the Blind.

“My father is near blind,” said Rep. David Young, R-Van Meter. “And you make a strong case with reason and rationale—and your emotion, I share with you—you make a strong case to keep the commission remaining and involved in selecting your director.”

Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said Iowa’s government exists to protect Iowans, not serve the governor.

“The Democrats will work hard to make sure division 13 is out of here and you guys can continue to get the world class care and services that you need,” she said.

Iowa House lawmakers had not completed a series of subcommittee hearings on Reynolds’ government reorganization bill as of Thursday afternoon. A Senate committee advanced the approximately 1,500-page bill Wednesday.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter