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Iowa mulls Kadyn’s law

By Janet Lawler, for the Albert Lea Tribune – 

NORTHWOOD, Iowa — When the Iowa Legislature convened Monday for the 2012 session, representatives and senators alike were greeted by large pink binders on their chamber desks. The 200 binders contained the support letters from every area education agency in Iowa, surveys from six school districts, 44 towns and more than 100 community members for proposed legislation known as Kadyn’s Law.

Kadyn’s Law is a proposed measure created last year in reaction to the tragic death in May of 7-year-old Kadyn Jade Halverson of Kensett. A driver failed to yield to a school bus stop sign, striking and killing her.

According to Kim Koenigs, executive director of the Worth County Development Authority as well as leading lobbyist for Kadyn’s Law, the potential bill intends to tighten laws for school bus-related traffic violations as well as worsen punishments for offenders. It will replace the current flat fine of $200 with graduated fines for offenses and requiring mandatory jail time for any injuries resulting from the violation.

Koenigs and Kari Halverson, mother of Kadyn, spent all day in the Iowa Capitol Monday speaking with legislators on both sides of the aisle and meeting with Gov. Terry Branstad.

“We want them to see reality, to see their children, not just words on paper,” Koenigs said.

Koenigs said they spoke to the House of Representatives Tuesday and intend to speak to the Senate today. Koenigs compiled the binder, which also contained her extensive research on school bus stop arm violations. She said her research found that Iowa had the seventh-lightest school bus laws in the nation.

“I just want Iowa to protect its children just as much as the 43 other states protect ours,” Koenig said.

Transportation Committee Chairman David Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, received a pink binder Monday, and though he had not read through it yet, spoke favorably about the bill’s future in the legislative session.

Rep. Jim Lykam, D-Davenport, a ranking member of the Transportation Committee, said he had read through much of it and said it was “very positive.” However, Lykam said he also saw some potential difficulties in funding and logistics of the potential bill.

“They want cameras on buses, but is the state going to fund that or the school?” Lykam said. “It’s a very tough issue we’re going to take a hard look at.”

Lykam said the first week of the legislative session is mostly ceremonial, and though the Transportation Committee met Tuesday, it was brief and introductory. Lykam went on to say it could take several weeks for the Kadyn bill to even get to committee once it gets drafted.

Halverson was present Monday and spoke with many legislators along with her fellow lobbyists. Halverson admitted politics never came easily to her, and although Monday was overwhelming for her she said will never give up even though she’s felt like doing so a few times previously.

“There’s times you feel like you want to give up but Kadyn was 7-years-old, and if she wanted something she would work to get it,” Halverson said. “So every time I wanted to give up because making laws isn’t my thing, I hear Kadyn’s voice: ‘Keep going.’”

Rep. Henry Rayhons, R-Garner, who represents both Northwood and Kensett, also received a binder. He said he hasn’t had a chance to read anything from it yet. Rayhons agrees that it is too early in the session to make any speculation as to legislation that to his knowledge hasn’t even been drafted yet.

“It is far too early to make any judgments on what will happen,” Rayhons said.

Lykam said Kadyn’s Law will first have to be drafted as a bill then put on the agenda of the Transportation Committee, of which the chairman will then assign it to a subcommittee for revisions. Tjepkes said he would definitely assign Kadyn’s Law to subcommittee. Lykam said the committee will then hear from all interested parties, which could range from lobbyists such as Koenig to school districts to county attorneys.

“Hopefully Kadyn’s Law will pass and get through Iowa,” Halverson said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t just happen in Iowa — we can’t stop and say, ‘Saved enough children’s lives; we’re done.’”

Halverson said she hoped to continue working with a similar group of activists working for Nathan’s Law, a story very similar to Kadyn’s. By doing this, Halverson said, eventually the laws could get passed from state to state and nationally. However, Rayhons said the Iowa Legislature has a practice not to pass laws with personal touches, such as Kadyn’s Law.

“Even if the law doesn’t pass, if parents heard about it, then it still worked, and Kadyn saved some lives,” Halverson said.

Iowa school bus stop law

The current statute for a school bus stop arm violation is a $200 fine, which Kadyn’s law hopes to raise to no less than $350 for the first offense, $750 or up to a year in prison for the second offense and fines up to $7,500 and/or five years in prison for the third offense. For a serious injury due to violation the penalty would be a mandatory five years in jail and up to a $7,500 plus various surcharges and restitution as well as one year license suspension. Vehicular homicide one for the violation is 15 years in jail, four year license suspension, fines up to or beyond $10,000. If the use of drugs is a factor in the violation vehicular homicide two requires 25 years in jail, at least a $10,000 fine and a six-year license suspension. The law has other additions including a bus safety curriculum, community service aids placed on school buses, camera systems on buses, bans on using electronic devices in school zones and requires a bus driver to be CPR and first aid certified.

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