Measure in Iowa House Requires Registration for Disabled Housing

April 16, 2009

Responding to as situation in Atalissa, Iowa, where 21 mentally disabled Texas men lived in a dilapidated house while they worked at a nearby turkey processing plant operated by Texas-based Henry’s Turkey Service, an Iowa House committee has approved a measure that would require registration for houses that shelter disabled workers.

The package was recommended by a task force created by Gov. Chet Culver after the men were found living in the run-down house.

Under the measure approved by the committee, other facilities would have to register with the state and subject to inspection.

Officials said the measure will give them a better handle on the number of facilities in the state and who is being housed in them.

“Does it solve all of the problems and close all of the gaps? No,” said Rep. Vicky Lensing, D-Iowa City, head of the House Oversight Committee. “This is a first step.”

The measure must still be approved by the House Appropriations Committee.

John McCalley, director of the Department of Elder Affairs and chairman of the task force, told the committee that the package takes a series of steps to begin dealing with the issue.

“This bill represents a delicate balancing act,” McCalley said.

Other recommended steps in the measure include:
-Department of Human Services officials conducting assessments of conditions at the facilities.
-Creating a multi-agency team that would oversee the care and treatment of dependent adults in the state.
-Tighter scrutiny of special permits that are issued allowing workers with disabilities to take jobs.

Though the Legislature is getting close to ending this year’s session, the measure is likely to emerge because of the discovery of the disabled workers living at the house in eastern Iowa.

The men were employed since the 1970s by Henry’s Turkey Service, which contracted for them to work at the meatpacker. They lived in a boarded-up house with only space heaters until a call to a state abuse hot line prompted an investigation and decision by the state to close the house in February and move the men to centers in Waterloo.

Allegations have since surfaced that the men saw little of their earnings and that most had almost no savings despite years of work.

Critics said the measure would do little in the face of a bureaucracy that didn’t rise to the occasion.

“For 34 years, 22 agencies have dropped the ball and now we’re reacting,” said Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield.

Similar legislation is moving through the Senate, and a criminal investigation in the case is continuing.

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