Iowa House passes legislation to toughen penalties for kidnapping minors

House also passes legislation encouraging schools to test for radon

Published: March 18 2014 | 5:25 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:49 am in

DES MOINES -- Legislation to toughen penalties for kidnapping a minor in Iowa including elimination of early release passed through the House Tuesday afternoon. The legislation comes in the wake of a high-profile case last year where a man freed from prison abducted two girls and killed one victim, Kathlynn Shepard, before hanging himself.

Senate File 2201 would prevent certain inmates from being released from prison early.  This accumulated time for good behavior would be eliminated for inmates who’ve committed several sexual or violent crimes against a victim who is a minor.

Kidnapping a person 17 and under would be considered a Class B felony punishable for up to 25 years. Any additional kidnapping convictions would be an automatic Class B felony subjected to the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions. There is an exception for relatives who kidnap their child, under 18, in attempt to obtain custody of the child.

“I simply cannot condone the thought of allowing inmates to reap the reward of being released early simply because they behaved themselves behind bars especially when they decided the victim they chose to offend upon is a child,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, the bill’s floor manager.

The legislation also allows authorities to examine both sealed and unsealed juvenile records when sentencing sexually violent predators or imposing civil commitment.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, opposed eliminating earned time off saying there lacked study on the issue, noting it wasn't a part of the Public Safety Advisory Board's original recommendations regarding the bill.

“I would suggest before we go dismantling a policy that has been in place for some time we ask the experts to look at that policy and analyze it and evaluate it and tell us why its there,” Wolfe said, adding to then consider the measure if experts approved.

The House approved the bill, 96-3. It was the second time the House voted for stiffer penalties and eliminating time off for good behavior.

Baltimore said he believes the measure is “based on pure simple and fact” and is something the public has largely supported.

The bill will go back to the Senate floor for approval. If the Senate doesn't agree with the House’s amendments lawmakers will come together in a conference committee to hammer out a final version.

Also Tuesday, House passed, 99-1, legislation encouraging schools to test for radon. The amended bill does not mandate schools test or mitigate for high levels of cancer-causing radon but encourages schools to report to the Department of Education their plans to test and mitigate. The department must also provide schools with options and possible program funding to test and mitigate and provide the Legislature with the information. The amended version will now go back to the Senate to agree on a final version.

Legislation providing low-income child-care assistance in four Iowa communities passed the House, 96-2. The bill allows low-income parents who accumulate 28 hours between working and going to school to be eligible for potential state child-care assistance. Current law allows parents eligibility if they spend 28 hours working or in school. The House bill limits the piloted program to Hamilton, Lee, Pottawattamie, and Scott counties, which angered House Democrats. The Senate version called for access to all 99 counties. The amended version now goes back to the Senate.

The House passed, 98-1, a bill to raise the maximum speed of mopeds from 30 to 39 miles per hour. Floor manager Rep. Brian Moore, R-Bellevue, said the increased speed would help the vehicles keep up with the flow of traffic on the road.

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