The Paulsen Perspective: Checks and Balances


In my opening day speech, I stated that while we want government to do less, we also want it to do much better.  One area where I believe everyone agrees government can do better is in the building of our new state prison in Ft. Madison.

In 2005, two prisoners escaped our state’s only maximum security prison in Fort Madison which led the Department of Corrections and other officials to evaluate the structure, safety and security at the prison.  The prison was originally built in 1839, one year after the state of Iowa became a territory.  Several recommendations were made and in 2008, the General Assembly appropriated $131 million to build a new prison in Fort Madison.   The ground was broken on the project in 2010 and the anticipated completion was late 2012 while the prisoners move in date was closer to the Fall of 2013.

Along the way problems began to arise with the geothermal system and the smoke clearing system.  At this time there is still no date set for the prison opening and while the geothermal problems have been solved, the smoke clearing system remains not up to code and no effective solution has been found.

To say that this is disappointing is an understatement.

One of the most important functions of the Legislature is to act as a check on the other branches of government – and to protect the taxpayers’ dollars and bring oversight when it comes to projects they’ve invested in.

This is why on the opening day of the 2015 session I tasked Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, the chair of the House Government Oversight committee, to begin to investigate this issue.

The committee has since toured the new and old facilities in Fort Madison to get a better sense of the project.  This week they held their first hearing, bringing the retiring Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin before the committee.

Director Baldwin laid out to the committee the timeline of the project and the problems that arose.  While he provided helpful insight, it also led to several other questions that have yet to be answered.  The committee will continue digging into this situation, and will bring forward other state officials to determine what went wrong, if taxpayer money was spent inappropriately and how we can get the project back online and the new facility operating properly.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me at (515) 281-3521 or