DES MOINES — Iowans charged with a violent crime could not use a victim’s sexuality or sexual orientation or gender identity as a mitigating factor in their defense under a bill passed Thursday in the Iowa House.
It was one of several bills House lawmakers passed through the chamber, including bills prohibiting black bear hunting and creating protections against defamation lawsuits.
The bill banning the “gay panic defense,” House File 159, passed the House with near-unanimous support. Rep. Mark Cisneros, R-Muscatine, was the only member to vote against it.
“This defense is both heinous and ridiculous, and this bill would eliminate it as a defense in Iowa,” Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton said.
The bill has passed the House twice in the past but has not made progress in the Senate. The bill was supported by LGBTQ rights groups, including One Iowa and Iowa Safe Schools.
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Black bear hunting
House File 175, a bill that adds black bears to a list of “fur-bearing animals” that are protected and managed by the Department of Natural Resources, passed in the House 90-5.
The bill would make it a crime to hunt black bears without following regulations set out by the DNR.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, aims to protect the potential resurgence of the species in Iowa. Black bears are originally native to Iowa, but the state has not had a viable population for more than a century, according to the DNR.
There have been more than 40 black bear sightings in Iowa since 2002, according to the DNR.
“This indeed is to protect black bears that migrate to Iowa or re-migrate to Iowa,” Jacoby said. “... This gives them a protected status until the DNR has time to review any hunting or trapping seasons that might be appropriate.”
House lawmakers also passed a bill that would make it harder for public figures to sue individuals and media outlets for exercising first-amendment rights.
The bill, House File 177, is meant to go after what are known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAAP. Under the bill, a party that is sued under certain conditions would be able to file for expedited relief and avoid much of the cost associated with the lawsuits.
The court could also award the winning party attorney and litigation fees.
Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, said the bill became a priority for him after a 2018 incident in which the Carroll Times Herald was sued by a former Carroll police officer for libel. The newspaper won the lawsuit but was left with tens of thousands of dollars in litigation fees.
“This legislation is about protecting our small-town newspapers and media outlets,” Holt said.