INMATE PORN READING ROOMS: Iowa Department of Corrections officials are seeking to shutter rooms designated for inmates to have access to adult materials in state prisons. The so-called pornography reading rooms were set up in response to a federal court ruling in the 1980s that found Iowa’s prison rules dealing with sexually explicit reading materials were unconstitutional. However, Corrections Department legal counsel Michael Savala said his agency has adopted language in bills in the House (House Study Bill 554) and Senate (Senate File 2136) that are modeled after a Federal Bureau of Prisons policy that state officials believe with stand up to a court challenge from inmates. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-1 to approve S.F. 2136, making it eligible for floor debate. Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, said the measure is a good one that deserves support, while Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, who worked for 27 years in the Iowa State Penitentiary, questioned whether the change would result in more tension and more violence. “Males have a certain chemistry and I think that this is going to cause, if they don’t have a way to relieve their sexual frustrations other than other offenders, that they’re going to find another way and I’m just afraid that that other way is on other inmates or even possibly staff. I think it’s a bad move for the prisons to do this. I know it won’t be good.”
DRAM SHOP DAMAGES: Legislators are being asked to consider capping the “dram shop” liability for Iowa restaurants and taverns that serve alcoholic beverages to a patron who overindulges and is involved in a traffic crash that injures an “innocent third party.” Senate Study Bill 1179 and House Study Bill 594 would strike language in Iowa’s law that attaches liability to state alcohol license or permit holders for all damages in circumstances where the seller knew or should have known a patron was intoxicated or would become intoxicated before an alcohol-related mishap. The proposed change would narrow the law’s application to any “innocent third party” and require that the injury be “proximately” caused by intoxication. In cases where an intoxicated patron’s action resulted in injury to a person or property, the judgment or recovery would be limited to $75,000 for each person injured; but that could be increased to $100,000 per person for certain claims. Representatives from hospitality industry associations supported the measure as a way to help control liability insurance costs, while trial lawyers, victim advocates and others said the cap on damages for victims would reduce protections and impede efforts to keep impaired drivers off the roadways.
NIGHT COURT: The Iowa Supreme Court has scheduled a special evening session Feb. 12 in Des Moines. Justices will gather at 7 p.m. to hear oral arguments in a Wapello County case involving a dispute over the location of a livestock feeding facility. In Honomichl v. Valley View Swine LLC, the plaintiffs seek damages on nuisance and negligence claims for the loss of use and enjoyment of their property due to odors, pathogens and flies emanating from confined feeding operations. Defendants, seeking to bar the claims before trial, filed a motion for summary judgment citing an Iowa Code section that provides farmers legal protection from certain claims. But the District Court held the immunity section unconstitutionally denies plaintiffs lawful remedies for their alleged injuries. Defendants appealed. The evening session is open and provides an opportunity for Iowans to see the justices in action.