AMES — The chairman of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, a key lawmaker in establishing law enforcement legislation, was jailed Friday on drunken driving and weapons charges after authorities said they spotted his Ford Explorer weaving and going 25 mph under the speed limit on Interstate 35.
Rep. Francis “Chip” Baltimore, R-Boone, faced a judge in his initial court appearance and was released from the Story County Jail.
“The fact of the matter is I was picked up and charged,” he told KCCI-TV, a Des Moines CBS affiliate, in an interview outside the courthouse in Nevada. “Obviously it’s not my proudest moment, so we’ll move forward from there.”
Baltimore told KCCI that “it’s not my determination to make” whether to remain as chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Baltimore, 51, could not be reached later. A recording states his cellphone was not accepting messages. He did not post any statements on his Twitter or Facebook accounts, which have been dormant since August.
Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, has the authority as speaker of the House to determine whether Baltimore stays on as committee chair. But she sidestepped that issue in a statement.
“Drunk driving is unacceptable behavior for anyone, let alone a state legislator,” she said. “We will work through this issue and deal with it quickly. We will also work with Representative Baltimore to get him the help and support that he needs at this time.”
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Baltimore faces charges of first-offense OWI and possession of carrying a weapon after he was pulled over about 3:30 a.m. Friday near U.S. 30 and Dayton Avenue.
Ames police Sgt. Mike Arkovich said a report of a reckless driver came over police radio. An officer went out to the I-35 area to watch for the vehicle. The officer spotted a sport utility vehicle matching the description and stopped it.
Arkovich said a Smith & Wesson pistol was found in Baltimore’s SUV as it was being impounded. While Baltimore had a permit to carry the gun, the permit becomes void once a person’s blood alcohol exceeds 0.08 percent, Arkovich said. He said Baltimore’s blood alcohol level was measured at 0.147 percent.
In addition to the alcohol and weapon charges, the legislator was charged with failure to maintain lanes and driving under the speed limit.
Arkovich said Baltimore was seen weaving — driving on and off the lane divider line — and that his speed fluctuated between 45 and 65 mph.
Arkovich said Baltimore told officers he was on his way home from meetings in Des Moines when he was pulled over.
Court documents show Baltimore had slurred and mumbled speech, bloodshot and watery eyes and slowed movements. He admitted to “drinking about three drinks,” with the last one being consumed about three hours earlier, documents state.
According to the documents, Baltimore’s breath smelled of alcohol, and he did poorly on a field sobriety test.
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He was being held on $2,000 bail at the jail, records show, and was released later in the day. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 8.
Baltimore is in his fourth term in the Iowa House, representing Boone. Besides being chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he also serves on the House Agriculture, State Government and Ways and Means committees.
In the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers discussed measures to crack down on distracted and impaired drivers.
Legislative records show that Baltimore’s committee endorsed a measure that would, in part, establish a program to monitor the sobriety of those convicted of drunken driving.
Then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed a law for only a limited program.