Sanctuary cities ban among bills dead at Iowa Legislature
DES MOINES — A bill that would have prohibited so-called sanctuary cities in Iowa and legislation that would have banned most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected are among measures not advancing beyond a procedural deadline in the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature.
The deadline Friday required policy bills to have secured several procedural votes. Some bills have been selectively kept alive and their futures are unclear. Here’s a look at what’s alive and dead, though any bill can be revived through procedural rules.
• Civil forfeiture
The bill would add restrictions to how authorities can seize money and other items from people suspected of illegal activity, a process known as civil asset forfeiture. Critics say the system can undermine a citizen’s rights, and Iowa lawmakers have become more vocal in recent years about the need for additional oversight. In Iowa, authorities can keep items regardless of a conviction. The bill would require seized cash or property to be returned if it’s valued at less than $5,000 and there’s no conviction.
• Water Works
The bill would dismantle water utilities in Des Moines, West Des Moines and Urbandale, moving oversight from independent boards to city councils in the three cities. GOP lawmakers say the change is meant to allow cities in the area to have more direct control of their water. Opponents say the move is retaliation against Des Moines Water Works, a utility that filed a lawsuit two years ago against three rural counties to stop farm runoff from polluting the city’s water supply. A federal judge recently dismissed the lawsuit.
• 911 calls
The legislation would eliminate the public’s right to access 911 calls involving emergencies in which people are injured, sealing key information about public safety. The bill declares that 911 calls involving injured victims are medical records and exempt from Iowa’s open records law. That means authorities’ initial response to shootings, stabbings and many other incidents would face less scrutiny. Calls involving minors would automatically be confidential, a point that lawmakers have focused on in their support for the bill.
• Medical marijuana
Iowa currently allows some people with epilepsy to use cannabis oil, but there is no legal system for acquiring it. Legislation moving forward would simply extend the program, which is slated to expire this year. Lawmakers had briefly considered a bill that would create a comprehensive system for growing and distributing medical marijuana in Iowa, but it did not advance. Critics say an extension of the current system is not sufficient action.
• Medical malpractice
The legislation would limit financial recoveries for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits to $250,000. Similar measures have been declared unconstitutional in 11 other states, but some courts have upheld the efforts. Medical malpractice victims have criticized the bill, calling it an unconstitutional abuse of power by the Legislature, while supporters say lower medical liability premiums would make Iowa appealing for physicians.
• Sanctuary cities
The legislation would have prohibited the existence of so-called sanctuary cities by requiring counties, cities and public colleges to follow federal immigration law in cases involving possible deportation. A similar but separate bill would have added penalties to entities that didn’t comply. No Iowa cities identify as a sanctuary city, and academics say the term carries the misconception that such communities are breaking federal law when many want to ensure people living in the country illegally are aware of their judicial rights.
• Traffic camera ban
Some Republican lawmakers tried to ban the use of traffic enforcement devices such as red-light and speed cameras, but the measure lacked enough support and was changed to focus on improved regulation. Supporters of the original bill argue the cameras are primarily a means of generating money, some of which goes to out-of-state companies. Others say the devices promote safer driving.
• Fetal heartbeat/body parts
Efforts to ban abortions in Iowa once a fetal heartbeat is detected were abandoned after Republicans could not gain enough support for the measure. Other provisions of a bill would have required a woman to wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion and broadened potential lawsuits against doctors. Additionally, legislation to restrict the use of aborted fetal tissue in medical research did not advance. Republicans are now focusing on legislation that would ban most abortions at or around 20 weeks of pregnancy.
• Highway protestors
The bill would have charged people who block traffic on highways with a felony, which could have resulted in up to five years in prison. The bill was sparked by a protest against then-president elect Donald Trump during which more than 100 demonstrators blocked traffic on a freeway in Iowa City. Critics called the measure a violation of free speech, while supporters said such highway protests are unsafe.
• Safe haven
The bill would have expanded Iowa’s law that currently allows a parent or other authorized person to leave a newborn at approved locations without fear of prosecution. The bill would have expanded the window for releasing the child from 14 days to 30 days. It also would have allowed a baby to be relinquished to a first responder if a person called 911. The baby would then have been taken to a hospital or health care facility.