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Warrantless ‘garbage grabs’ approved by Iowa Legislature
Bill to permit warrantless search of abandoned garbage goes to governor
DES MOINES — A proposal to legislatively overturn a state Supreme Court decision that Iowans do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for garbage they place in a publicly accessible area was approved by the Iowa House 56-38 Tuesday, a much closer margin than the unanimous approval by the Senate.
SF 2296 would reestablish the status quo, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, told the House.
The court ruling establishing that Iowans have a right to privacy for garbage they place outside their homes, along a street, came from the 2021 case of northern Iowa man who was charged with misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance. Evidence to convict him was found during a warrantless search of his garbage that had been placed outside his home. Holt described the ruling as “turning decades of precedent on its head and alleviating one of law enforcement's most vital tools in solving crimes.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that warrantless “garbage grabs” do not violate the federal constitutional prohibition on unreasonable search and seizures,” Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said.
She explained that in his majority decision, Justice Christopher McDonald, who Gov. Kim Reynolds appointed, wrote that although law enforcement investigations would be simpler and easier if warrants were not needed, “the mere fact that law enforcement may be made more efficient, can never by itself justify disregard of the Constitution.”
Wolfe also argued that majority GOP lawmakers know they don’t have the authority to legislatively overturn a “constitutionally protected liberty interest.” When the state Supreme Court ruled there is a constitutional right to abortion in the Iowa Constitution, the Republican-controlled Legislature didn’t file a bill to reverse that, but proposed a constitutional amendment for voters to approve.
The Legislature routinely passes bills to address court rulings, Holt countered.
“There has never been an expectation of privacy for abandoned garbage sitting on a curb,” he said. “We're not talking about garbage outside on your back porch. Publicly accessible area is the key. And again, this legislation is returning us to the status quo.”
Five Democrats joined Republicans to approve SF 2296 and five Republicans voted against it.
The bill now goes to the governor.
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