Government

Iowa House OKs 'infrastructure sabotage' penalty, sends bill back to Senate

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)
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DES MOINES — Legislation that could be used to prosecute “infrastructure sabotage,” such as the ransomware attack that has shut down the city of Atlanta’s computer networks, won approval in the Iowa House, 69-31, on Tuesday.

Senate File 2235, which was expanded by the House to cover everything from electric generation and transmission to telecommunications and broadband to wastewater treatment, now goes back to the Senate where it was originally approved, 33-16.

Bill manager Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, called it an “important addition to the tools that we have to protect our citizens and protect our infrastructure.”

“It’s important that we have penalties in place to dissuade people from attacking those systems,” he said.

Opponents called it an overreach.

“I know that there will be some of you in both parties who feel compelled to vote for this because, if you don’t, you’re afraid you’ll get a card that says you’re soft on crime,” Rep. Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, said. “No, what this is, is soft on our ability to have free speech.”

He offered an amendment to include a portion of the Iowa Code that specifically protects demonstrators, pickets and protesters making statements “of public interest.”

The amendment failed, 42-56, after Worthan argued the bill’s language protected “lawful activity.”

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The bill, he said, targets things such as terrorist threats that could crash critical infrastructure, disrupt the Iowa economy, cause ecological damage and put lives in peril.

Olson also objected to making any violation “something less draconian” than the Class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a $100,000 fine called for in the bill.

Worthan encouraged his colleagues to “rely on the wisdom of local prosecutors and local courts.”

The bill had the support of several utility companies. It was opposed by civil libertarians and unions.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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