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Iowa House OKs stiffer penalties for rising drug overdose deaths
Lawmakers also increase penalties for felons possessing firearms
By Tom Barton and Caleb McCullough, - Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Mar. 21, 2023 7:01 pm
Iowa House lawmakers voted on a number of bills Tuesday, including heightened penalties for selling a drug that results in an overdose and for possessing a firearm as a felon. The bills now go to the Iowa Senate for consideration.
Penalties increased in overdose deaths
A person who sells a drug that results in an overdose would be subject to higher sentences under a bill House lawmakers passed Tuesday.
House File 595 would triple the sentence for selling or providing a drug that results in the death of another person and double the sentence if it results in bodily injury. The bill was proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds as a reaction to rising rates of drug overdose deaths in the state.
The bill also increases penalties for selling fentanyl, and imposes twice the term imposed for a person who manufactures certain drugs in the presence of a minor or delivers those drugs to a minor.
It also expands the availability of drugs that reverse overdoses, like naloxone, and expands who can provide them.
The bill passed with near-unanimous support, 91-3. It was amended to expand the naloxone provisions further, while an amendment intended to legalize fentanyl test strips failed.
Republican Rep. Phil Thompson of Boone pointed to rising overdose rates in Iowa, fueled by the highly potent opioid fentanyl, as one reason the bill is needed.
“It is really important that we treat this very lethal drug with the deference it deserves,” he said.
While he voted for the bill, Democratic Rep. Ross Wilburn of Ames said he was concerned the higher sentences would not be effective in deterring crime.
Bill would allow some crime victims to end rental agreements early
Another bill adopted unanimously by the House would allow Iowans who are victims of domestic abuse, stalking and other crimes to terminate their lease without penalty.
House File 547 allows victims of domestic abuse, stalking, sexual abuse or elder abuse to exit their rental agreement without paying a fee, forfeiting their deposit or incurring other penalties.
The bill was amended to specify that remaining roommates would not be released from a lease if a roommate breaks their lease under the bill’s provisions.
While the bill passage was unanimous, some Democrats opposed the amendment, saying it could leave people who cannot afford to pay a property’s full rent without options if a roommate ends their lease.
“You’re putting somebody in a tenuous situation that they simply can’t afford,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames.
Possession of a firearm by a felon
House File 625, which passed the chamber by a vote of 88-6, increases penalties for felons in possession of a firearm.
The bill creates mandatory minimum sentencing for felons knowingly possessing, receiving or transporting a firearm.
Iowa county sheriffs and deputies support the legislation as a deterrence for habitual unlawful firearm possession.
Opponents expressed concerns over the potential cost impact to the Iowa Department of Corrections.
A fiscal analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency estimates the bill will increase Department of Corrections inmate supervision costs by at least $2.8 million annually.
Last fiscal year, under the current law, 62 individuals were sent to prison and 204 individuals were admitted to community-based corrections. Under the bill, all 266 individuals would be admitted to prison and no individuals would be admitted to community-based corrections.
Additionally, the bill would likely disproportionately impact Black residents, according to Legislative Services Agency.
Of the 425 felony firearm convictions recorded in the state for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2022, 45.6 percent were Black, while comprising 3.6 percent of the Iowa’s population.
Currently, anyone who has a federal or state felony conviction and knowingly possesses, receives or transports a firearm commits a Class D felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,245 fine.
The proposed law establishes the following mandatory minimum sentencing:
- A person commits a Class D felony for a first offense with an indeterminate five-year term and a two-year mandatory minimum imprisonment.
- A person commits a Class D felony for a second offense with an indeterminate five-year term and a four-year mandatory minimum imprisonment.
- A person commits a Class C felony for a third offense with an indeterminate 10-year term and a seven-year mandatory minimum imprisonment;
- A person commits a Class C felony for a fourth or subsequent offense with a 10-year term and a 10-year mandatory minimum imprisonment.
A Class C felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $13,660 fine.
Additionally, the court is prohibited from deferring judgment, sentencing or suspending any mandatory minimum sentence imposed.
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