Earlier this week, the justice systems appropriations subcommittees of the Iowa House and Senate approved a bill that would slash funding for grants that assist victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse by over 25 percent from the current fiscal year’s allocations, from about $6.7 million to just over $5 million. (This year’s funding was later reduced to about $6.5 million after budget cuts.)
In the Senate, the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee is chaired by Ottumwa Republican Mark “Chickenman” Chelgren, who in 2006 was arrested on a domestic violence charge after allegedly hitting his then-17-year-old stepson “multiple times,” tackling him, and leaving him with “a swollen and bloody upper lip.” Chelgren pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct for fighting or violent behavior — a charge that has caused several people to lose their gun ownership rights under federal law — then launched an AR-15 manufacturing business just months later. (Chelgren also recently voted in favor of the most extensive gun rights laws in Iowa history, which include a stand your ground provision making it easier for Iowa gun owners to use deadly force without facing criminal penalties. Gun ownership is a major risk factor in domestic violence homicides.)
Chelgren did not respond to a request for comment from the Informer asking him if he thought his support for slashing funding to victims of domestic violence could become a political liability given his own history of domestic violence.
On Thursday, two days after the subcommittee’s vote, state Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, a former cop (who isn’t on the subcommittee) urged Iowans to contact Chelgren and ask him to reconsider his support for cutting funding to the victim assistance grants. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on the legislation as early as Monday.
The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault also issued a joint statement listing the services the grants helped provide nearly 47,000 Iowans in 2016, including crisis counseling, housing and legal assistance, and job search coaching.
As Bleeding Heartland noted, the vote came during both National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.