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Ban on traffic cameras and professor tenure meet legislative demise

Ban on traffic cameras and professor tenure meet legislative demise

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Traffic moves along West Broadway as a red light camera stands at the northeast corner of the intersection at 16th Street.

DES MOINES — The path to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk hit a dead end Wednesday for dozens of bills that legislators had hoped to successfully move through the House and Senate this year.

Friday is the official self-imposed “funnel” hurdle for legislation to clear in order to stay eligible this session, but the decision Wednesday not to conduct floor debates in either legislative chamber spelled doom for many policy measures lacking the backing needed to reach the finish line this year.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said legislators took action early in the week on issues that leaders believed had the best chance to pass both chambers as they winnow the workload heading toward an April 30 adjournment target.

“Like any funnel week, some bills just don’t make it through for a variety of reasons and have to wait until next year,” said Whitver. “There are always bills that get momentum at different points but ultimately just aren’t going to pass both chambers this year.”

The list of bills falling victim to this deadline — requiring passage by one chamber and a committee of the other — included legislation that would have allowed student-athletes to profit from the use of their names, images and likenesses. That bill, Senate File 245, took on added significance when University of Iowa basketball player Jordan Bohannon said passage would play in his decision to return for a sixth season of COVID-19 affected eligibility.

Another funnel casualty was a renewed bid to ban and remove automated traffic enforcement cameras from most Iowa highways on July 1. The measure carved out an exception to let them stay around the Cedar Rapids’ S-curve near downtown; but the bill’s demise means all can remain in the state.

Also, slower drivers who “camp” in the left lane of a divided expressway won’t have to worry about getting a citation after House File 494 was parked in the legislative no-passing lane.

Iowans longing to keep their clock set to daylight saving time all year long will have a rude awakening this fall when they lose an hour after time ran out on Senate File 335. Gamblers won’t be able to wager on e-sports, and regent university professors will maintain their faculty tenure for at least another year with House File 49 placed on the shelf for now.

“The bill was intended to start a discussion which it certainly did,” sad Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, of the tenure bill. “There are provisions in both our divisive concepts and free-speech bills that I believe address the issue for now.”

Other bills falling victim to this week’s deadline include measures to create an asset and identity verification system for recipients of public food and other assistance; to bar employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations; to reduce penalties for first-offense marijuana possession convictions; to eliminate the statute of limitation on criminal and civil actions involving the sexual abuse of minors; and to halt the privileges for Iowans to hunt, fish and camp for up to a year if convicted of littering.

Much of Wednesday’s flurry of committee action focused on keeping issues alive with Friday’s deadline looming.

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee voted 12-5 to advance legislation that would create a new “unauthorized sampling” criminal offense, which would apply to anyone knowingly entering private property without consent to obtain samples of substances from agricultural animals or any soil, air, or water from farms. Also, placing a camera or other electronic surveillance device on someone else’s property would be a crime under the bill.

Penalties range from an aggravated misdemeanor carrying a two-year sentence and fines topping $8,500 to a Class D felony for subsequent offenses that would carry a five-year prison term and a fine up to $10,245.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, voted for the bill because the provisions would kick in only if someone first had committed trespassing, but he expressed concern the bill went “too aggressively” in setting the penalties “on steroids”

Critics called the bill an “underhanded” misuse of the legislative process to spring a new version of the “ag gag” law that previously was struck down by a federal judge and will be again if House File 775 passes.

Also Wednesday, members of the Senate Transportation Committee approved a House-passed bill to regulate low-speed electric bikes similar to regular bicycles on streets, highways, bike lanes, paths and other places. Senators amended House File 493 to impose a 20 mph limit on low-speed electric bikes where a speed limit is not posted.

Transportation committee members also approved House File 524, which expands the penalties for drivers who leave the scene after knowingly causing an crash that results in serious injury to a Class D felony carrying a five-year prison term. A Class C felony is committed if a driver knows or has reason to believe his or her vehicle was involved in a crash resulting in a death but leaves without contacting authorities — an offense carrying a 10-year prison term.

Another bill that survived would enhance the penalty for vehicular homicide cases involving excessive speed.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee approved House File 753, which imposes a Class C felony carrying a 10-year prison term for a driver whose vehicle was involved in another person’s death while exceeding the speed limit by 25 mph or more. Drivers convicted under the proposal would be subject to license suspension and could not operate a commercial vehicle for a year.

Across the rotunda, the House Ways and Means Committee refilled the gas tank on the governor’s renewable fuels bill to require most gasoline sold in Iowa to contain at least 10 percent ethanol and diesel at least 11 percent biodiesel. Chairman Lee Hein, R-Monticello, acknowledged his 37-page amendment was a “major change.” It addresses many of the issues raised in discussion with interested parties, he said. Farmers and commodity groups generally supported House Study Bill 185 but fuel retailers were opposed.

His amendment also included cost-share grants for retailers and pipeline terminals to install renewable fuel infrastructure.

A Judiciary subcommittee set the stage for Senate File 450, which would make the death of a dependent adult by a caretaker who commits intentional or reckless abuse a second-degree murder. The full committee scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday.

And the House Education Committee kept alive Senate File 517 to exempt high school students who work as legislative pages from social studies and physical education. Some committee members objected to the mandate and questioned if the pages should be exempt from PE.

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