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Iowa Senate sends rape-tracking bill to governor
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Iowa Senate sends rape-tracking bill to governor

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

DES MOINES — Iowa senators voted Wednesday to send Gov. Kim Reynolds a bill that will establish ongoing funding to track evidence kits critical to the prosecution of rapists.

The Iowa Senate, in a 44-0 vote, approved House File 426 to establish a system to follow rape kits from evidence collection at a hospital, to law enforcement, to the crime lab for analysis and then back to law enforcement.

The system was established by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office in 2020 with a $796,985 federal grant that will cover program costs through 2023, when provisions of HF 426 kick in.

The money to operate the system will come from criminal fines and penalties; a percentage of the earnings of inmates employed in the private sector; and federal funds.

The tracking program — which allows a sexual assault victim to anonymously track it — is to cost nearly $158,000 a year, increasing annually to $170,700 in fiscal year 2027, according to a fiscal note prepared by the Legislative Services Agency.

“I do think we do need to do a better job of tracking our rape kits,” said Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, who also tried unsuccessfully to have senators revisit a bill that would extend Iowa’s statute of limitations for bringing criminal and civil actions regarding sexual crimes against minors, but the effort was ruled out of order.

A state audit in 2017 revealed there were 4,200 untested sexual assault evidence kits in law enforcement offices throughout Iowa. In 2020, the Attorney General’s Office reported more than 1,600 still needed testing. Since then, state officials have indicated the processing time has been reduced from 199 days to 46.

“This will allow victims, county attorneys and any entity with custody of a test kit to track it,” Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said, noting that victims also must be notified before the disposal of a kit.

“These are horrendous crimes, and we certainly do need to do what we can to address them,” he added.

On a related note Wednesday, senators voted 44-0 to approve House File 603, a bill that will establish a sexual assault forensic examiner program within a division of the Attorney General’s Office if the bill is signed by the governor.

In all, senators worked in bipartisan fashion Wednesday to send two dozen bills to the governor’s desk for consideration.

EXPLICIT IMAGES

The Senate also unanimously approved legislation to provide civil remedies for the unauthorized disclosure of private, sexually explicit images without the consent of a person in the images.

House File 233 applies only to sensitive content in which the individual had a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The bill includes limited exceptions for certain disclosures, including those made in the course of law enforcement, legal proceedings or education, medical treatment or investigations of misconduct.

It would protect a plaintiff’s privacy by allowing the court to redact or exclude identifying characteristics of the plaintiff from the pleadings or documents filed in the action.

FLOOD INSURANCE

Another bill, House File 583, sets up a private flood insurance market in Iowa to allow some Iowa insurance companies to start selling private flood insurance policies to cover homes.

Under the bill, an eligible insurance company would have to have a state certificate to do business in Iowa, and a company would be required to file rates for its flood insurance policies with Iowa’s insurance commissioner. As written, the bill would allow only private flood insurance policies to cover a primary residence.

AMUSEMENT RIDES

One bill that drew some partisan differences was a measure that would reduce the minimum age to 16 for an amusement ride attendant who controls patron restraints or the operation, starting, stopping or speed of the attraction.

Backers said House File 558 was an outgrowth of a shortage of available workers brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that has negatively impacted amusement parks and other attractions.

But Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, tried unsuccessfully to try to have someone age 18 or older available to assist a 16- or 17-year-old in case something went wrong.

Boulton worried the bill on its way to the governor would create new issues and conflicts, such as a state law that requires a person to be at least age 18 to operate a power hoist.

“Age does not have a lot to do with ability,” Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, said, in arguing for the bill that passed by a 29-15 margin.

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