Staff Columnist

Iowans enjoy a few new freedoms starting this week

(Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
(Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Iowans can enjoy a few new freedoms this week.

More than 100 new laws took effect in Iowa on Monday, after they were approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year.

Most of the new laws impose regulations, allocate taxpayer money or tinker with state programs, but a handful offer citizens some small but important liberties.

• Senate File 617 legalizes and regulates sports betting in Iowa.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law that heavily restricted state governments’ power to authorize sports betting. Following that ruling, at least 16 states now have legislation for legal sports wagers.

Iowa lawmakers were wise to join the movement. Unregulated sports betting already takes place, and moving it off the black market allows the state to get tax revenue.

The law went into effect this week, but state regulators have not yet published rules to govern the practice. Sports wagers are expected to open later this year.

• Senate File 589 makes several changes to the criminal justice system.

The legislation — which earned unanimous support in the Iowa House and Senate in its final votes — is a mixed bag, raising some penalties and easing others.

The best part is a new process for some misdemeanor offenders to apply for their conviction to be expunged, or erased from their record. Iowans are only eligible if they have not been convicted another serious offense in the previous eight years, and have paid all financial obligations imposed by the legal system.

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Criminal records, even for relatively minor offenses, can have serious long-term consequences, especially for job applicants. Expunging those records will make it easier for previous offenders to be productive members of society.

• Senate File 346 makes female genital mutilation a felony.

I usually am skeptical of creating new crimes, but this legislation responds to a very real problem.

Last year, a federal judge ruled the national ban on female genital mutilation — which involves the partial removal of young girls’ genitalia — was outside the federal government’s authority. That left about half the states, including Iowa, without a prohibition against the practice.

Iowa lawmakers deserve credit for acting quickly and approving the bill during their first session following the federal court ruling.

Ownership over one’s body, even for children, is the most basic individual liberty. If this law can be effectively enforced, it will be an important defense of bodily autonomy.

• Senate File 188 bars public colleges from banning non-projectile pulse weapons, commonly known as stun guns.

The law effectively overturns policies like the University of Iowa’s, which previously included stun guns in a list of banned weapons, alongside real guns. Students, faculty and visitors now will be allowed to carry stun guns on campus.

Stun guns do not carry the same risk of negligent discharge as firearms, and they are considered non-lethal or less-lethal weapons.

Many people carry such devices for personal protection, and it’s likely some students were carrying concealed stun guns even when they were banned.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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