DES MOINES — Sheriff’s departments were given new authority to conduct strip searches in their jails under legislation that made it through the Iowa House on 93-5 vote Wednesday.
The bill, House File 2174, expands the types of offenses for which jail personnel can strip-search inmates to include misdemeanors. Currently, state law allows a strip search for a serious misdemeanor or felony.
“This is a safety bill,” said Rep. Stan Gustafson, R-Cumming, the bill’s floor manager. He said it was in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision and would seek to enhance safety by preventing weapons, drugs or other contraband from making their way into a jail’s general population.
The legislation was amended on the floor to include the sentence “if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is concealing a weapon or contraband.”
It was inserted to address concerns some lawmakers had that people who were pulled over for certain traffic violations or other relatively minor infractions would end up getting strip searched.
“This makes it a better bill,” said Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, of the amendment and urged her colleagues to support it.
In March 2013, Woodbury County officials agreed to pay $385,000 to settle three lawsuits filed by women over strip searches in the jail. Two other lawsuits over strip searches in the jail are ongoing.
The House debated for roughly three hours Wednesday.
In addition to the strip search legislation, lawmakers moved bills that:
Following a break in the debate, Wolfe announced that police in Pennsylvania arrested Allen Wade, a 43-year-Pittsburgh man who is accused of killing two of Wolfe's younger sisters during a home invasion in that city last month.
“I’ve been treated like a member of your family, and you’ve made me feel safe here,” Wolfe told her colleagues. “Thank you so very much for all the considerations and kindness, and I will never forget it, and I’ve always been proud to be a member of this House, but never more proud than during the past several weeks, and you all should be very proud of yourselves.”