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Capitol Digest 2-21-12

James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012:

NOBEL RECOGNITION: Iowa State University Professor Dan Shechtman of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology was honored by lawmakers with House Resolution 116 and Senate Resolution 109 for his receipt of the 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Shechtman, who serves as a professor of materials science and engineering at ISU, received his Nobel Prize for his 1982 discovery of the existence of quasicrystals, an atomic structure for solid materials that was previously thought to be impossible by the scientific and engineering community.

According to Senate Resolution 109, Shechtman endured significant skepticism and criticism from professional peers but stood firm in his convictions and in the accuracy and import of his discovery. His findings were independently confirmed by other researchers around the world, including scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University. The discovery of quasicrystals resulted in textbooks being rewritten and it increased the knowledge and fundamental understanding of solid materials

FOWL HONOR: Ducks Unlimited’s 75th anniversary was noted in a proclamation signed by Gov. Terry Branstad recognizing the group’s members and volunteers who help its conservation achievements possible.

Ducks Unlimited was founded in 1937 to conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. Since 1986 it has conserved more than 70,600 acres of critical wetland habitat in Iowa.

The proclamation cited the value of Iowa’s shallow lakes and wetlands as prime habitat for waterfowl during migration and breeding, and as waterfowl hunting areas that preserve the state’s outdoor heritage. Iowa’s wetlands are also valued for their role in water-quality protection, flood control and the state’s overall environmental health.

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NO DUTY OF CARE: A bill making clear that a landowner, renter or occupant “owes no duty of care” to a trespasser and is not liable for any injury to a trespasser cleared the House Judiciary Committee. A landowner, renter or occupant must refrain from injuring a trespasser, but shall not be liable for injuries arising from justifiable defense of property, according to HSB 614 that now goes to the full House.

The landowner, renter or occupant can be held liable for injury to a minor trespassing if it is determined the cause was a “highly dangerous artificial condition” on the land.

TAKE ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Scientists from 28 Iowa colleges and universities are calling on state officials to develop policy and take action to address the causes and effects of climate change in Iowa.

Forty-four scientists — including Prof. Gene Takle, director of the Climate Science Program at Iowa State University – warned in a letter to lawmakers that “changes in rainfall patterns and other climate indicators have emerged as the latest and potentially the most serious challenge to Iowans’ lives and livelihoods.” They call for state and local officials to “acknowledge the overwhelming balance of evidence … develop appropriate policy responses (and) develop local and statewide strategies to adapt to near-term changes in climate.”

Iowans should know that Iowa scientists “understand that climate change is real and is already affecting Iowans and Iowa’s economy,” said David Courard-Hauri, Drake University professor of environmental science and policy.

PROSECUTING CHILD PORN: A bill that could lead to more extensive prosecution of possession, distribution and reporting of obscene material, including live transmissions, won the unanimous approval of the House Judiciary Committee.

HSB 525 clears up confusion about how those prosecutions should be handled, according to Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown. The bill is in response to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that a person possessing child pornography could be charged with just one violation because the images were on one computer. HSB 525 makes clear that a person can be charged for each image they possess because each image is a victimization, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Floor manager Rep. Walt Roger, R-Cedar Falls, said the bill also strengthens Iowa’s human trafficking law.

MORE TIME FOR VICTIMS: A bill extending the time survivors of sex abuse have to bring a civil cause of action to 10 years after reaching age 18 moved from subcommittee to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A three-senator panel heard from survivors that the current one year limit for a cause of action is not long enough. Many victims do not come to terms with the abuse for several years, survivors told the subcommittee.

“There’s no easy, reasonable number,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, the bill’s sponsor. It’s better than what we’ve got. We talked with some victims’ groups and tried to come up with a policy that had some logic to it.”

SF 2229 is supported by Prevent Child Abuse Iowa and the Iowa Catholic Conference, but opposed by the Iowa Association of School Boards.

RURAL REPAYMENT: A House committee approved legislation to allow the state to repay the medical school loans of doctors who go into family practices and agree to work for five years in rural areas defined as towns of 20,000 or less and located more than 20 miles from a city of 50,000 or more.

“I do hope this will turn the tide in our favor,” Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf, said about HSB 595. She called it an effort to get doctors into areas traditionally underserved by medical professions.

The bill sets aside $1 million for loan repayment starting in July 2012 and increases that by $1 million a year until it hits $4 million in 2015. Priority would be given to Iowa residents. Doctor must complete an Iowa-based residency program.

A CLEAN RECORD: HF 2157, a bill requiring all fines and judgments to be paid before certain criminal records can be expunged, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee. Under the bill, when a person who received a deferred judgment is released from probation, his or her criminal record — indictment, information, or complaint that resulted in the deferred judgment – shall be expunged. The bill also calls for expunging all references to the charges, both paper and electronic records.

SOLICITING MURDER: A Senate subcommittee Tuesday approved a change sought by the Iowa County Attorneys Association to create a criminal offense relating to the solicitation to commit murder. Under current law, the offense is included with other criminal solicitations that are classified as class D felonies.

Prosecutors said a situation where someone commands, entreats, or otherwise attempts to persuade another person to commit murder should carry a tougher penalty than soliciting another person to steal property. Senate Study Bill 3154 would establish the crime of solicitation to commit murder as a class “C” felony punishable by confinement for no more than 10 years and a fine of at least $1,000 but not more than $10,000. Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, expected the issue would be taken up by the full Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

RECOGNIZING STILLBIRTH: The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved HF 2195 to offer families of a stillborn infant the opportunity to have both a birth certificate and a death certificate.

The bill, which goes to the full House, does not change the definition of stillbirth – a birth after 20 weeks or of a fetus of at least 350 grams. A death certificate will be issued and families will be able to obtain a “certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth.” The legislation is similar to laws in 32 states, Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said.

Mandy Ford of Clarinda, whose third daughter was stillborn last year, lobbied the Legislature for the change to recognize that if there was a death, there was a birth.

About 200 stillbirths are reported in Iowa each year, according to the Department of Public Health.

NOISY MUFFLERS: The Senate Transportation Committee voted 10-3 Tuesday to approve a bill that would set a uniform standard for noisy mufflers.

Senate File 2079 stipulates that a motor vehicle shall not be operated on a highway in Iowa with a muffler that emits a noise exceeding 95 decibels based on Society of Automobile Engineers’ standards. The new statewide noise prevention threshold would pre-empt any county or city ordinance regulating mufflers on motor vehicles, including motorcycles.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said the change was needed to establish a consistent standard that would protect vehicle operators and law enforcement officers, who are accused of applying subjective criteria when issuing excessive noise citations.

“I think this creates a better balance,” said Danielson, who requested a fiscal analysis of the cost state and local agencies might incur to purchase appropriate equipment for roadside testing of muffler noise. S.F. 2079 states that every motor vehicle shall be equipped with a muffler in good working order at all time to prevent “excessive or unusual noise and annoying smoke, and no person shall use a muffler cutout, bypass or similar device upon a motor vehicle on a highway.”

By comparison, stock mufflers at idle generally register about 68 decibels, a telephone dial tone in about 80 decibels and a train whistle 500 feet away makes a noise of about 90 decibels.

PARTITION (NOT PARTISAN) FENCES: The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee does not plan to consider a bill to amend an 1851 state fencing law before Friday’s “funnel” deadline – which would effectively kill the issue for the 2012 session.

Sen. Eugene Fraise, D-Fort Madison, who also farms, said he favors Iowa’s current law providing that when a landowner wants to build or repair a fence, the neighbor with adjoining land must contribute to the cost of erecting and maintaining the dividing structure.

Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, moved a bill, SF 2012, through subcommittee this week to change the law to require a livestock owner to be solely responsible for erecting and maintaining a partition fence. Jochum said the current law that affects rural and suburban areas is outdated and needs to be modernized, but GOP senators said they were concerned the measure was politically motivated because it addressed a situation similar to a Worth County dispute that involves Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton. Bartz declined comment because the fencing dispute is being litigated.

Fraise said the current law has worked well for more than 160 years and he did not plan to bring the bill before the full committee. Under General Assembly rules, non-money bills must clear at least one standing committee of the House or Senate by Friday to remain eligible for consideration this year.

FUNNEL SURVIVORS: The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted 7-6 to approve legislation intended to protect unemployed people from discrimination in hiring by barring Iowa businesses or online employment agencies from stipulating in advertisements or job posting that only people currently employed would be allowed to apply for an opening. Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, called job postings that require an applicant must currently have a job is “the worst Catch 22 situation I’ve heard in a long time.” He said the prohibition could be used to discriminate against stay-at-home moms, home-schoolers or people who return to college to improve their job skills. Also Tuesday, the Senate Economic Growth/Rebuild Iowa Committee passed a “shell” bill to keep the tax increment finance (TIF) issue alive, approved a separate measure to provide incentive to supply chain companies that was different from Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal and forwarded to the Senate debate calendar a measure that would allow self-employed people who recently lost a job to continue receiving unemployment benefits for an extended period. Friday marks the deadline for non-money bills to clear at least one House or Senate standing committee to remain eligible for consideration this session.

Quote of the Day: “This bill creates a huge unfunded mandate and because we apparently are unwilling to put our money where our mandates are, I’m going to have to be a ‘no’ on this version of the bill.” Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, explaining her vote against HF 2156, which would require local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the employment of unauthorized aliens

–Compiled by the Des Moines Bureau

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