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Iowa House calls for stronger penalty in child endangermment deaths

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DES MOINES — The death of a 17-month-old Cedar Rapids girl was the catalyst for Iowa House to pass legislation that sets a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for child endangerment leading to death.

The House voted 97-0 on Thursday to approve House File 2064. It gives judges discretion to sentence someone convicted of child endangerment leading to death to a minimum of 15 to 35 years for the “most heinous” cases, said floor manager Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Cedar Rapids.

Among the factors a judge could consider: “intentional acts of unreasonable force” and whether torture or cruelty were present.

The House also approved proposals designed to increase voter participation in school board elections, address the state’s skilled-worker shortage by updating career technical education programs and to require a survey of law enforcement agencies to determine the status of untested sexual abuse evidence collection kits. Processing the kits will be paid for by a $2 million federal grant, said floor manager Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines. In other states, processing untested kits has led to identification of suspects in other criminal cases.

House File 2420 was amended on the floor to require that, if a conviction were obtained in a case where a rape kit was not tested, the information shall be provided to the public defender for further consideration.

In addition to obtaining convictions in cold cases, Anderson said, “we want to look at exonerating people convicted without DNA evidence.”

“This adds to the other side of justice,” she said.

In addition to denying parole eligibility until a child killer serves at least 15 years — it’s one now — the measure applies the same 15-to-35-year range to those convicted of second-degree robbery.

The proposal stemmed from the death of Kamryn Schlitter. She was killed by her father, Zyriah Schlitter of Cedar Rapids. A jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

Although he was sentenced to 50 years in prison, Rizer said he was up for parole after one year.

“It’s a big deal,” Rizer said, “because this is the first time we put in the Code discretion for a minimum penalty.”

The proposal, which now goes to the Senate, is in line with calls by Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady for judicial reform.

The Iowa County Attorney’s Association opposed the proposal; the Iowa State Police Association favored it. The Iowa Bar Association was undecided.

A measure known as HF 2406, approved 61-36, would move school board elections from September to November to coincide with municipal elections. Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, said that would triple participation in school board elections.

Opponents said the change would confuse voters, and there would not be enough time between November elections and school board members taking office in December for them to get up to speed on school budgets and other issues.

The Senate has passed similar legislation in the past.

The House unanimously approved legislation that attempts to address the state’s skilled-worker shortage by updating career technical education programs.

Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, a member of the task force that studied career technical education programming, called the bill “probably some of the best education reform we’ve moved in a long time.”

Rep. Mary Ann Hanusa, R-Council Bluffs, said the proposal calls for collaboration between school districts, community colleges and the business community. Some Iowa communities already “This is a major step toward addressing the critical needs in our state for middle-skill workers,” Hanusa said.

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