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A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Wednesday, March 22, 2017:
BORROWING TROUBLE: People who do not return rented equipment could face criminal charges under a bill, approved 15-6 by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. SF 403 would create Class C and D felonies if rental equipment, such as tools or construction equipment, is not returned according to the terms of the rental contract. Currently, that's a civil matter.
Seeking payment in civil court 'is not that fruitful,” according to bill manager Rep. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City.
The intent is not to lock up people but to 'put teeth” in laws governing rental agreements, according to lobbyist David Adelman.
But 'criminal law should not be used to put teeth into something that is a civil matter,” said Marty Ryan of the Justice Reform Consortium.
It would be an affirmative defense if the renter returns the equipment and pays what is owed within 48 hours of arrest.
Democratic Reps. Brian Myer of Des Moines and Vicki Lensing of Iowa City said the bill does not clearly define 'rental equipment.” Would that include hospital beds and wedding reception decorations, Lensing wondered.
Ryan wondered whether the bill might lead to doctors and attorneys asking to be able to file criminal charges against clients who don't pay for their services.
'I wish you hadn't planted that seed,” said Carlin, an attorney.
The measure already passed the Senate, 49-0.
FETAL TISSUE LEGISLATION:
The Iowa Senate voted 43-6 Wednesday to approve a bill making it a state crime to acquire, provide, transfer, receive or otherwise traffic in fetal body parts outside some limited research purposes. Violation of the provisions of Senate File 359 would constitute a class C felony punishable by a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of at least $1,000 but not more than $10,000. A provision of the bill 'grandfathered” in all existing cell lines held by research universities prior to Jan. 1 and made other limited provisions for tissue donations and research activities. Six Democrats opposed the measure that now goes to the Iowa House, while 28 Republicans, 14 Democrats and one independent voted for passage.
ADMONISHMENT: A lobbyist for a group that led the effort to substantially reduce public employee collective bargaining rights earlier this session will be admonished by the House Ethics Committee for his failure to register as a lobbyist.
Drew Klein of Americans for Prosperity said he thought he was registered with the Clerk of the House, but records show that he did not register this year until after the collective bargaining law was signed by Gov. Terry Branstad.
Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, filed the complaint.
The House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to find that the complaint was valid and again to send Klein a letter admonishing him for failing to register and warning him to exercise greater care in the future.
In a related matter, Progress Iowa said that as a result of an open records request, it learned that Branstad did not keep a record of who was invited to his office when he signed the collective bargaining bill. According to Branstad, members of his staff, legislative staff and Klein were the only ones present for the Feb. 17 bill signing. Questions were raised after Klein posted on social media a picture of himself shaking Branstad's hand at the bill signing.
Klein was one of the few people to speak in favor of the legislation at legislative meetings.
INMATE DEATH: A 72-year-old inmate has died at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. Officials with the state Department of Correction said Wednesday that Lawrence Gladson was pronounced dead at 11:15 p.m. Tuesday in a penitentiary hospice room where he had been housed due to a number of chronic illnesses. Gladson had been serving a sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree robbery from Jasper County. He was admitted to prison on Jan. 11, 1983, for felony assault, extortion and false imprisonment from Warren County, but escaped from the minimum security Correctional Release Center in Newton on Sept. 3, 1985, and committed the current offenses.
RECYCLER PENALIZED: A Lee County judge has ordered a Fort Madison man and his recycling company to pay a $125,000 penalty in a default judgment over an environmental lawsuit filed last year by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. District Court Judge John M. Wright ordered Feinberg Recycling LLC and its owner, Marty Feinberg, to pay the penalty and permanently dismantle and dispose of aluminum recycling equipment. Miller's office says he sued the company and its owner in July, alleging the defendants repeatedly and illegally operated machinery used to separate metals. The machinery releases airborne hazardous substances when melting aluminum, and is regulated by state and federal environmental laws, according to Miller's office. The substances include dioxins and furans which, according to the lawsuit, are highly toxic and can cause cancer and other health problems. According to the lawsuit, Feinberg did not seek a mandatory permit for the machinery or operate it with required equipment to monitor and limit air pollutant emissions. The lawsuit also alleged that Feinberg illegally stockpiled more than 3,500 waste vehicle tires and failed to obtain various environmental permits for construction and operations at the facility.
PROJECT LABOR AGREEMENT: The Iowa House Labor Committee voted 11-6 to send SF 438 to the full House. The bill restricts the use of project labor agreements in publicly funded projects, which supporters say will create a more competitive process that results in greater cost savings for taxpayers.
The Senate has approved the bill 26-21.
Supporters contend that non-union contractors shy away from government-financed projects because the bidding process requires the revelation of proprietary information.
Opponents call it another example of lawmakers meddling in local issues.
SENATE CONFIRMATIONS: Two separate committees advanced three of Gov. Terry Branstad's appointees to state boards and commissions Wednesday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the appointment of Gregory Crocker of Mitchellville to the Iowa Board of Parole to be considered for confirmation by the full Senate. Likewise, the Senate Transportation Committee approved former legislator Tom Rielly of Oskaloosa and Nancy Maher of Shenandoah to be members of the state's Transportation Commission.
Gubernatorial appointees must be approved by a two-thirds majority, or 34 affirmative votes, to be confirmed by the Iowa Senate.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: 'I really would like to be able to give our school districts more leniency in some of the decisions. However, I don't believe this bill is the way to go. It grants home rule in name only, which I understand is fulfilling a campaign promise, but it isn't actually giving our school boards any more authority that they need, that they have been asking for,” Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, arguing against HF 573 to give local school boards home rule.
Compiled by the Des Moines Bureau