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:

  • Allows the use of all-terrain vehicles on state highways but gives counties an “opt-out” provision.
  • Allows professional misconduct charges to be leveled against a teacher who starts a relationship with a student within 90 days of graduation.
  • Gives local zoning boards more leeway how they handle cases.