Government

Iowa House approves reduced liability for businesses that serve drunken drivers

The House Chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The House Chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A proposal to reduce the legal and financial liabilities of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to individuals who later become involved in vehicle crashes was approved Monday by state legislators.

Businesses would have to directly serve the intoxicated person, and the person would have to be visibly intoxicated at the time of the sale, and damages would be limited to $250,000 in a civil suit unless a jury determines there was a substantial or permanent loss of a bodily function, according to House Democrats’ analysis of Senate File 2169.

The legislation passed, 61-36, on a largely party-line vote, with most Republicans supporting and most Democrats opposing.

Rep. Brian Best, R-Glidden, said the proposal would help lower insurance rates for business that are required to carry dram shop insurance to cover potential damages. He said some such businesses pay about $40,000 per year for dram shop insurance.

“This gives small-business owners certainty with rising costs,” Best said. “(The proposal) positively impacts thousands of small-business owners throughout the state.”

Opponents questioned whether the proposal would lower insurance rates and expressed concern it would lessen the state’s ability to punish businesses that do not take steps to stop potential drunken drivers.

“I’ve seen so much drunken death on the highways in 32 years as a trooper, and I don’t think this is going to do anything to reduce drunk driving. Might even make it easier for drunk driving,” said Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, a retired state trooper.

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Because the House amended the proposal, it heads back to the Iowa Senate, which had approved it with lower financial caps.

ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE

A proposal intended to ensure home security systems do not run afoul of privacy laws passed the House, but not before a debate that included concerns that the legislation is too broad and could have unintended consequences.

House File 2392 passed, 60-38, largely along party lines, with most Republicans supporting and most Democrats opposing. Many Democrats expressed concern the language in the bill legalizes electronic snooping and voyeuristic behavior.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, who is a lawyer, said she appreciates the bill’s intention but expressed concern with the possibility for unintended consequences.

“It is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed, but this bill does what we so often do here: you write a bill that fixes one issue, but it opens up others,” Wolfe said.

“Anybody out there who believes in privacy and liberty and not having people record private conversations when you are in an apartment building or a hotel ... we are making it legal for that to happen.”

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, also a lawyer, supported the bill but conceded Wolfe’s concerns could have merit.

He said as technology increases, it becomes more difficult to craft legislation that achieves admirable goals without creating the possibility of other issues.

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“I think it’s one of those difficult situations to try to legislate when there are very creative criminal minds out there,” Baltimore said.

The amended proposal returns to the Iowa Senate.

BOILER INSPECTIONS

Roughly 7,600 water heaters in public places no longer would be subject to state inspections under a proposal that passed the House on a 58-40 vote largely along party lines, with most Republicans supporting and most Democrats opposing.

If signed into law, water heaters used for potable water of more than 120 gallons, no more than 200,000 British thermal units and working pressure of less than 160 pounds per square inch would no longer be required to receive an inspection. That doubles the gallons threshold and quadruples the Btu threshold in current law, and surpasses federal safety recommendations for both.

Democrats said the proposal, House File 2297, creates dangerously lax regulations.

Having been previously approved by the Senate, the proposal heads to the governor.

Corrected, April 4, 9 a.m.: An earlier version of this story mis-stated the specifications of water heaters that would no longer be inspected under House File 2297.  

l Comments: (515) 422-9061; erin.murphy@lee.net

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