The “Funnel” date is upon us and the frenzy to get bills passed in committee is winding down. Technically it’s Friday, February 21, but since our committees are only scheduled through Thursday, that’s when we must have our bills passed by a committee to remain active. This funnel date requirement doesn’t apply to Appropriations or Ways and Means bills as those are worked out towards the end of the session.
On Wednesday I had the honor of managing a bill, House File 2395, through the Public Safety committee that recognizes our 911 call center operators as first responders. Historically they have been categorized as clerical, but the job evolved way past that designation many years ago. A 911 operator, formally known as a “Public Safety Tele-communicator” under this bill, is truly the “first” first responder in most crisis situations. It’s the 911 operator that receives the call from the person considering suicide and the operator’s expertise can make the difference between life and death. It’s the 911 operator that receives the call from the accident victim and the first aid advice from that operator can save a life in those critical minutes before an ambulance arrives. And in so many more situations the 911 operator fills the gap before aid can arrive in person. This recognition of the status of 911 operators is long overdue and much needed.
Another bill I managed through the Public Safety Committee was House File 515. This bill increases the penalty for sexual contact between an officer or employee in law enforcement, corrections, the judicial system, or county jails and a person in the custody or supervision of the corrections or judicial system. The penalty increases from an aggravated misdemeanor, 2 year maximum sentence, to a class D felony, a 5 year maximum sentence. This crime also will now carry a requirement for the convicted person to be placed on the sex offender registry for ten years after release from prison. There are cases of this kind of sexual exploitation taking place in Iowa, we hope to reduce the incidence of this crime with this tougher penalty.
Also in Public Safety we passed House Study Bill 653, an update to the Medical Cannabidiol Act that allows patients to use Cannabis Oil and THC for medical purposes with a doctor’s consent. This bill is similar to the bill last year that was ultimately vetoed by the governor. Last year’s bill was flawed in that the House bill managers were led to understand that 25 grams of THC over a 90 day period was an appropriate medicinal level. However, as we found after the bill passed the House, the Medical Cannabidiol Board that oversees the program disagreed with that level, leading to the veto. This year’s bill sets the level for THC to 4.5 grams per 90 days. This limit replaces the previous 3% maximum THC level, which is essentially no limit since the 97% can be benign filler. The bill also contains other updates to the program that the board and the legislature have mutually agreed upon. To put this limit in perspective, it is generally considered that a marijuana joint delivers roughly 10 milligrams of THC to the user. A 25 grams per 90 days limit would allow 277 milligrams per day, roughly the equivalent of 28 joints. The 4.5 grams per 90 days limit would allow 50 grams per day which is the level that medical science indicates is adequate for medicinal purposes. The bill also allows exceptions to this limit for persons with terminal illness or with other conditions approved by a doctor. While I still believe strongly that the medical use of cannabis byproducts should be regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration instead of a state legislature, I supported this bill because I know that these changes will improve the program and impose common sense limits on the THC levels that are supported by medical research. I am also confident that the Medical Cannabidiol Board established by the original legislation is doing an excellent job of managing the program based on medical science instead of the emotion and hearsay that permeates much of the claims about medical marijuana.
Last year the legislature passed important reforms to our judicial nominating process for Iowa Supreme Court justices, giving the Governor the ability to appoint an extra seat on the commission in place of a sitting Iowa Supreme Court justice that previously chaired the 17 member commission. Two lawsuits were filed by Democrats after the bill passed claiming it wasn’t done within constitutional guidelines. This week the courts dismissed these lawsuits for lack of legal standing, reaffirming the Legislature’s constitutionally guaranteed role in defining how the commission is appointed. This is great news for Iowa. In a nutshell, this means that unaccountable lawyers will no longer control the judicial nominating commission, but instead the voters of Iowa will control the commission through their selection of Governor. Governor Reynolds has already appointed one new Supreme Court judge under the reformed process, Justice Dana Oxley, who replaced Chief Justice Cady, and another judge will be selected soon to replace Acting Chief Justice Wiggins, who has announced his retirement. With Wiggin’s retirement, the court will elect a new chief Justice soon as well.