DES MOINES — Legal fireworks and tougher penalties for distracted drivers involved in fatalities were approved by Iowa House committees ahead of a Friday deadline for legislation to win support in both chambers of the Legislature.
Both bills had been approved in other committees, as well as in the Senate, but had to win passage in the House Ways and Means Committee because of fees and taxes involved.
Senate File 489 legalizing fireworks went off but not without several committee members trying to douse the bill that would allow the sale and display of pyrotechnics around the Fourth of July and during the Christmas-New Year’s day holiday period. It was approved 14-10 with bipartisan support and opposition.
Senate File 444, which would establish programs to require drivers arrested for or convicted of impaired driving to participate in twice-daily sobriety monitoring, as well as require some drivers to install ignition interlocks, passed 23-1. Under the bill, a distracted driver who struck and killed someone could be convicted of a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
That was problematic for Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, the lone “no” vote. She pointed out that another bill, Senate File 234, specifically allows drivers to talk on their phones.
SF 444, which was approved 48-0 in the Senate, would provide that cellphone use while driving would be evidence of reckless driving “with willful or wanton disregard” for public safety.
“I know you have good intentions, but I don’t think this bill does that,” she told bill manager Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant.
Nunn said the stiffer criminal penalty for vehicular homicide would apply to any distracted driving behavior — eating a cheeseburger, for example — not just using a cellphone.
The bill mentions phones, not cheeseburgers, Wolfe countered.
In addition to tougher penalties for vehicular homicide, the bill creates a 24/7 monitoring program for people convicted of alcohol-related crimes. As written, Wolfe said, it would apply to thousands convicted of public intoxication.
Nunn said the cost of the twice-daily alcohol test would be about $4 per day and the initial cost of the ignition interlock device would range from $200 to $500.
The recommendations for the legislation came out of a task force Gov. Terry Branstad formed to study ways to keep drunken, drugged and distracted drivers off Iowa highways following a year when traffic deaths spiked to 403, the most since 2008.
The fireworks legislation was all about giving Iowans more freedom, bill manager Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said.
However, Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, a former city council member, said the bill would give local governments less freedom. It would not allow cities to ban the sale of fireworks — only their display.
“So it’s just half local control,” he said.
Jacoby also noted that many legislators, including House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, oppose emergency rule-making as is the case here because it does not allow for public input into the process.
Emergency rule-making is necessary in this case, Windschitl said, because the fire marshal needs to prepare for the first fireworks “season.”
“I assume the fire marshal has already started,” Jacoby said.
SF 489 would allow licensed retailers or community groups to sell consumer-grade fireworks to adults in permanent structures between June 1 and July 8 and between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3. A similar provision would apply to conforming temporary structures, such as tents, from June 13 through July 8 each year. It also places time restrictions for the display of fireworks.
The measure sets a fee structure for various license levels; allows counties or cities that do not want to legalize fireworks to opt out of the use but not the sale; and bars the sale or purchase involving anyone younger than 18. A violation would be punishable by a fine of between $250 and $625.
Iowa law currently classifies the possession, sale or use of consumer fireworks without a permit — other than sparklers, caps and snakes — as a simple misdemeanor.
The House State Government Committee voted 18-3 to approve Senate File 442 allowing Iowans to sign a voluntary exclusion prohibiting them from entering an Iowa-licensed casino.
Under current law, a voluntary exclusion is for life. The bill would allow a person to choose either a lifetime ban or a five-year exclusion, Rep. Kevin Koester, R-Ankeny, said. A five-year exclusion could be renewed for another five years or for life.
The bill also would allow someone who banned him or herself to attend functions at a casino but not be on the gaming floor.
Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, opposed the bill, saying the changes would not help gambling addicts. She also noted that problem gamblers can go across the state line to gamble or visit one of Iowa’s five Native American casinos that are not covered by the voluntary exclusion law.