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Reynolds signs law to limit Iowa state auditor's powers

rob sand speaks at a podium
Katarina Sostaric
State Auditor Rob Sand is the only statewide elected official who is a Democrat.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Thursday that restricts the Iowa state auditor’s access to certain state information.

Auditor Rob Sand is the only statewide elected official who is a Democrat. He called this “the worst pro-corruption bill in Iowa history” and said the law will allow state agencies being investigated for waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds to hide information if the governor agrees to it.

“It will allow insiders to play fast and loose with Iowans’ tax dollars because those very same people will be able to deny the Auditor’s Office access to the records necessary to expose them,” Sand said in a statement Thursday. “As Assistant Attorney General, I prosecuted criminal cases for seven years. This is akin to letting the defendant decide what evidence the judge and jury are allowed to see.”

The bill passed the Iowa Legislaturewith only Republican support, and a few Republicans joined all Democrats in voting against the bill.

Reynolds did not provide a statement in her announcement of the bill signing. But on a recent appearance on Iowa PBS, she said state officials should be able to resolve disagreements without going to court.

“If my agencies have some conflict, we bring them in, we sit them down, and we ask them to work it out,” Reynolds said. “…To go to the courts, to have executive branch agencies competing against each other, the taxpayers have to pay for it twice.”

Opponents of the bill have said Republican lawmakers are targeting Sand for political reasons, and Republican supporters of the bill have denied that. The GOP-led legislature expanded the power of the newly elected Republican attorney general this year.

The Institute of Internal Auditors and a former U.S. comptroller general under Republican and Democratic presidents have expressed concerns that the legislation could jeopardize federal funding and impede the independence of the state auditor.

“Gov. Reynolds ignored a bipartisan group of oversight and accounting professionals opposed to the bill, as well as members of her own party who voted against it,” Sand said. “More importantly, she ignored Iowans who want to know how their tax dollars are spent.”

The law bars the auditor from accessing certain private information, including medical and student records, unless it’s needed to investigate alleged or suspected embezzlement or theft, to comply with generally accepted government accounting standards, or to comply with other state or federal regulations.

Proponents of the law say this is needed to protect Iowans’ personal information, though the state auditor’s office was already required to keep that confidential.

The new law also prohibits the state auditor from taking state agencies and officials to court if they refuse to provide records during an investigation.

It requires a three-member arbitration board to decide if the agency should release the information. One member would be appointed by the governor, one by the agency that’s being investigated (whose director is appointed by the governor), and the third member would be appointed by the auditor.

The auditor would not be allowed to appeal the board’s decision in court.

Reynolds said it’s the legislature’s role to determine what the auditor can and can’t do.

“This doesn’t limit his access to information, but it does say that just information that he’s curious about, he doesn’t have access to that,” she said.

This provision would only limit the auditor’s access to state records, not local government records.

The new law will take effect July 1.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter