DES MOINES — A bill that calls for publicizing the names of people who pay for sex and seizing their vehicles stumbled in a House Public Safety subcommittee Tuesday, but may get a second chance when lawmakers learn more about its purpose.
“The intent of the bill is to prosecute 'the john' and take his transportation if he has any,” House Public Safety Committee Chairman Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, said Tuesday.
However, in a subcommittee hearing, lawmakers and lobbyists were nearly unanimous in opposition because they thought the bill targeted prostitutes, rather than the people paying for sex, colloquially referred to as "the john."
“This would victimize the victim if you start a trial by media,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, one of three subcommittee members.
The bill calls for the arresting law enforcement department to issue a news release identifying anyone charged with soliciting sex with a prostitute.
Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, shared those concerns, but later said he wanted to discuss the bill with Baudler before deciding whether to sign it. Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, had questions, but wanted to move the bill to full committee.
Advocates for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault also opposed the bill, arguing that in many cases, prostitutes are victims of human trafficking.
“I wouldn’t even arrest the woman because she’s a victim,” Baudler, a retired Iowa State Patrol trooper, said. “I’m not putting down the woman. I’m putting down 'the john.' You take the money away and we won’t have as much human trafficking.”
Baudler’s proposal, House Study Bill 656, also calls for seizing the vehicle of those purchasing sex, if it is used in the commission of the offense. The vehicle would be held until the charges have been resolved. If there is a conviction, the vehicle would be crushed.
That, Baudler said, will “really get the attention of the people.”
Public humiliation probably helps, Wessel-Kroeschell said, but she doesn’t think it is clear in the bill that it applies only to the person paying for sex and not the prostitute or human trafficking victim.
HSB 656 also raises the objections of groups opposed to government confiscation of property. Typically, property valued at $5,000 or more may be forfeited whether or not there is a conviction. HSB 656 requires a conviction before the property is confiscated and destroyed.
Rather than destroy the vehicles, Wessel-Kroeschell suggested they be turned over to programs that would make them available to people in need of transportation.