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Last week was a productive week in the Iowa Senate. We passed a number of bills and sent them over to the House. I was the floor manager for several of them. My “Back the Blue” bill (SF 534) that I described last week was approved. I was disappointed that all the Democrats voted against it. All Republicans voted for it. One of the complaints the Democrats made was that the penalties are too high. Keep in mind that the penalties for most criminal acts are “up to” a certain number of months or years. The sentencing judge can impose a sentence that fits the crime. It is rare that there is a mandatory minimum sentence, except for the most serious crimes. In my closing argument on the bill, I pointed out that last summer’s riots were not limited to one evening where a few people got carried away. They went on night after night, in Des Moines and other parts of Iowa, as well as around the nation. Even in Des Moines, law enforcement personnel were physically attacked and businesses were damaged and looted, and other property was damaged. Unfortunately, there are always a few people who physically attack and injure their fellow citizens. We occasionally even have deaths. There are also those who damage or destroy the property of others. Our law enforcement personnel protect us, often risking serious injury or even death. The least we can do is to make their jobs as safe as we can. We can’t have a civilized society without laws, and enforcement of those laws. The House version of this bill is a little different than ours. Both bills must be identical to become law, so we will have to work out the differences. Our bill has nearly all the House provisions and a few others as well.  

Elder Abuse

Another major bill that I guided through the Senate last week was a bill to increase penalties for those who commit elder abuse (SF 522). The bill increases penalties for attacks on an older individual, defined as a person 60 years of age or over. The penalties range from a misdemeanor to a class D felony, depending on the severity of the attack. Penalties for theft from an older individual are move up by one step. The bill establishes a new crime of financial exploitation of an older individual. This occurs when a person in a position of trust abuses that trust to misappropriate the assets of the older individual. The penalties range from a serious misdemeanor to a class B felony, depending on the amount misappropriated. Also, the bill provides for an additional $5,000.00 civil penalty for consumer fraud.

Qualified Immunity

The Senate passed a bill placing qualified immunity protections for law enforcement personnel in the Iowa Code (SSB 1178). Qualified immunity is a long-standing judge-created doctrine giving public employees immunity from liability for their actions unless their conduct was clearly established to be unlawful. If the House passes the bill this principle will be established in the Iowa Code for law enforcement personnel. In addition, the bill provides that if a judge rules that the employee is not liable for the action, because of qualified immunity, the employer is not liable either.  

Revenue Estimating Conference

The Revenue Estimating Conference will meet Friday, March 19, to give us the estimated revenue numbers for the coming fiscal year that, that begins July 1, 2021. We need those numbers before we can finish work on our budget for the new fiscal year. By law we must use the lower of the December or March estimates. We can only spend up to 99% of that number plus any surplus revenue from the current fiscal year. As in the last several years, I do not expect that we will spend up to the maximum that we legally can. I, and most Republican legislators believe that it makes sense to leave ourselves a cushion in case revenue does not come in as expected. There are always those who criticize us for not spending enough. I do not expect that this year will be any different.

Author: Julian Garrett