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DES MOINES - Measures seeking to bolster gun rights, provide tougher 'back the blue” law enforcement protections and lower the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana passed under the wire Wednesday in advance of a bill-killing legislative 'funnel” deadline.
Republicans in control of the Senate Judiciary Committee moved a dozen bills on to the Senate debate calendar, including a measure to ease gun restrictions by allowing permit-less 'constitutional carry”; measures placing a $1 million cap on non-economic damages that could be awarded in medical malpractice and truck-driver liability cases; and legislation to give more time to bring charges against pedophiles who sexually abuse minors by eliminating Iowa's statute of limitation on criminal and civil actions involving sexual abuse of kids.
Wednesday's heightened committee work was brought on the first funnel deadline of Friday. The deadline is meant to winnow the 2021 session workload by requiring non-tax and non-budget policy bills to clear at least one standing committee in the House or Senate to remain eligible for consideration this session.
The most contentious part of Wednesday's legislative action came over a 'back the blue” bill that would increased criminal penalties for rioting, unlawful assembly, harassment, assault, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief - a measure Democrats said clearly was aimed at last year's protests in the wake of George Floyd's choking death by police in Minneapolis.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Senate File 497 is a punitive measure that breaks a promise legislators made to Iowans last year to address racial inequality concerns. Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, called it an offensive, 'mean-spirited” measure filled with 'subtle racism” intended to 'go back and put these people in their place.”
'This is extreme, this is an insult and I resent it,” he said. 'I think this bill should be canned.”
However, Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said there is a difference between First Amendment rights to protest and committing criminal acts by damaging and defacing public property and looting businesses.
Garrett also pointed to provisions seeking to enhance the rights of police officers who suffer injury in the line of duty by allowing them to recover damages against those who caused the injury, and a separate provision that grants civil liability protections for a driver who inadvertently hurts someone blocking a highway without a permit.
'The intent is to make the job of our law enforcement people simpler and safer,” Garrett said d before one Democrat joined nine Republicans in passing the bill. 'They go out and risk their lives for us regularly and it seems to me the least we can do is make their jobs as safe as we reasonably can.”
Additionally. committee members voted 9-5 to approve Senate Study Bill 1232, a measure allowing Iowans to purchase and carry firearms without a permit. If adopted, Iowans buying a gun from a federally licensed dealer would still have to either pass a federal background check or present a permit to carry, but firearms purchased from an unlicensed seller over the internet or a gun show would no longer be subject to Iowa's background check or permitting requirements.
SSB 1232 also would allow some emergency medical responders to carry weapons; allow law enforcement and reserve officers to carry guns on school grounds even if off duty; bar landlords of government-assisted housing from banning firearms; and create a database of organizations approved by the state to train Iowa seeking to carry a handgun.
'What problem are we trying to solve with this bill? Are law-abiding citizens having trouble getting guns?” asked Bolkcom, who pointed to statistics showing spiking sales of firearms in the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said the problem the bill seeks to resolve is 'the infringement of rights. If you have to get permission, that is not a right, it's a privilege,” he said.
During a meeting that started at 2:30 p.m. and ended about 6 p.m., senators also voted to lower the penalty for first-offense possession of 5 grams or less of marijuana to a simple misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and a fine between $105 and $855. Currently, the offense is a serious misdemeanor carrying up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
In their final meeting before the deadline, members of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee unanimously approved language seeking to amend the Iowa Constitution to preserve the right to hunt, fish, trap and harvest wildlife.
Senate Study Bill 1218 would have to pass this year and also the 90th General Assembly in exactly the same form to come before Iowa voters. The provision noted it was not intended to modify issues pertaining to eminent domain, trespass, property rights or water resources.
Members of the Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to approve legislation designed to bring Iowa's highway billboard law in compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling over First Amendment rights and keep Iowa from losing $53 million in federal funding without the proposed change.
They also agreed, with one no vote, to advance Gov. Kim Reynolds' proposed biofuels legislation. But Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, said the action on Senate File 481 was taken only to keep the issue alive for more work this session.
'There's a lot of players involved in this bill that we are in progress of bringing those folks together,” he said. 'I and most of us know this bill is not ready for the floor but I believe it can be and it will be. This will be a great bill at some time.”
Reynolds' proposal would require most gasoline sold in Iowa to contain at least 10 percent ethanol, with an option for the governor to raise that to 15 percent in four years. The proposal also shifts existing tax credits for ethanol and other biofuels to only those with blends higher than the new baseline.
The House Human Services Committee voted out 10 bills as the deadline closed in, several dealing with COVID-19 vaccination issues as well as topics covering telehealth parity for rural areas, pharmacists, physician assistants, medical residencies and licensure issues, Medicaid waivers and health insurance coverage, and use of respiratory inhalers for school children.
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