It’s three weeks into the 2013 legislative session, and so far there have been 35 bills assigned to House Judiciary subcommittee groups. Each subcommittee is made up of three legislators – since the Republicans hold the majority in the House, Judiciary Chairman Chip Baltimore appoints two Republican judiciary committee members to each subcommittee and I (as the Judiciary ranking minority member) appoint one Democratic judiciary committee member to each subcommittee. [Note that occasionally with very controversial or complicated bills the subcommittees are made up of five legislators - three Rs and two Ds - but no five person Judiciary subcommittees have been appointed to date].
[Slightly off topic, here’s a picture of the entire House Judiciary Committee - although I am sure not fond of my photo and we just got new photos taken earlier this week so I’m looking forward to posting the revised version of this montage in the near future]
Normally each subcommittee meets at least once to discuss the proposed bill and to hear from interested parties. “Interested parties” include members of the group that sponsored the bill, members of the press, and lobbyists that represent any groups/businesses/ organizations that might be impacted – negatively or positively – by the bill. E.g., lobbyists from the Iowa State Bar Association and the Iowa Association of Justice attend most Judiciary subcommittee meetings, and depending on the subject of the bill we might also have representatives from the Department of Corrections, the various state-wide law enforcement organizations, the Iowa Association for Civil Liberties, the Iowa Business Association, OneIowa, and the Iowa State Association of Counties, among many others.
After the three legislators on a bill’s subcommittee listen to whatever anyone has to say about the bill and (try to) get answers to any questions he or she may have about the bill, each of them either signs the form moving the bill forward for full debate in the House Judiciary Committee, or declines to do so. It takes two signatures to move a bill forward, and since House subcommittees are made up of 2 Rs and 1 D, any bills that the Rs want to move forward move forward, and any bills that they don’t want to move forward, don’t move forward (same thing happens in Senate subcommittees, only the Ds control over there so it’s reversed). That’s just the way it goes, and luckily, at least some of the bills that we deal with in Judiciary are non-partisan, so not all of the votes end up 2-1.
A list of all House Judiciary Committee bills assigned to subcommittee can be found here; it’s updated on a daily basis. Note that there are bills that the Speaker of the House has assigned to the Judiciary Committee which Representative Baltimore has not yet assigned (and may never assign) to a subcommittee – the list of all bills assigned to the Judiciary Committee can be found here.
The subcommittee chart lists the bill number (with a hyperlink to take you directly to the bill), the name of the bill, the names of the Judiciary members assigned to the bill’s subcommittee, and the date(s) of any scheduled subcommittee meetings. Normally notice of a subcommittee meeting has to be posted at least 24 hours in advance so that lobbyists/special interests monitoring a specific bill have a chance to be present – however, it doesn’t always happen that way, which is unfortunate.
You will note that not all of the assigned bills have, as yet, been scheduled for a subcommittee meeting – there’s still plenty of time, but some of those bills may never get that far. The subcommittee’s chairperson (in the House, it’s almost always a Republican, in the Senate, a Democrat) has a lot of power, since he or she can effectively “kill” a bill by simply refusing to schedule it for a subcommittee meeting – this is frustrating for legislators/special interests who really want the opportunity to have a public discussion/debate on a particular bill … but that’s politics.
March 8th (the Friday of the 8th week of session) is the first “funnel” date – this means that any House Judiciary bill that has not been passed by both its individual subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee as a whole is arguably “dead” for this session – i.e., it’s not eligible to be voted on by the entire House. However, there are ways around that, so at least hypothetically no bill is ever truly dead until the Speaker declares the session over (which is supposed to take place on or before May 3rd, but which likely will take place several weeks later).
FYI, here’s a list of all bills assigned to a House Judiciary subcommittee through the end of January – I’ve included the name of the Democratic legislator I assigned to the bill, and if you want to know what happened to that bill or have any questions/suggestions/concerns about a particular bill you can contact him/her/me or comment below. You can find contact info for individual legislators here; please put the bill number in the heading of your email.
Thanks for your support!
BILLS ASSIGNED TO HOUSE JUDICIARY SUBCOMMITTEES THROUGH 1/31
- Expands youthful offender program eligibility to include juveniles 16 and 17 charged with a forcible felony – currently only juveniles 15 and under are eligible. Sponsored by the Judicial Branch, and should be fairly non-controversial. Hopefully.
HSB 6 [Marti Anderson]: An Act relating to interpreters and translators
- Makes Iowa law conform w/federal Civil Rights Act by authorizing payment for interpreters in many types of proceedings and clarifying that this is free of cost to the person needing the interpreter (e.g., can’t be assessed as court costs against a criminal defendant). Non-controversial, probably.
HSB 7 [Dave Dawson]: An Act relating to immediate return of seized property
- Requires claimant requesting return of property (usually money, car, or a phone) seized by law enforcement to sign the application under penalty of perjury. This has already passed out of the Judiciary Committee 20-1
HSB 8 [Rick Olson]: An Act relating to conducting condemnation proceedings
- Relieves county attorneys from obligation to conduct condemnation proceedings involving “school corporations.” Since apparently there is no longer any such legal entity. This is what is called a “clean up” bill, intended to just bring code in line with reality.
HSB 9 [Beth Wessel-Kroeschell]: An Act relating to authority of cities to regulate and restrict the occupancy of residential rental property
- Enjoins cities from passing zoning laws that would restrict occupancy of rental property on the basis of familial relationships – i.e., a city couldn’t pass an ordinance that required landlords to restrict renters to family members only. Apparently some cities have passed such zoning ordinances, with the intent (I believe) of avoiding situations in which, say, ten students (with ten cars) rent out a two bedroom house in a family neighborhood and take over all the parking spots on the entire street and/or trash the house and thus lower the surrounding property values. It is completely understandable why cities/home owners would want such zoning laws ; however the concern is that such an ordinance might be written too broadly (e.g., might enjoin a family from hiring a live in nanny, or enjoin a single mom w/two kids from allowing her boyfriend to move in), and/or have a disparate impact on minority populations, who sometimes have a fairly loose definition of “family.”
- This bill is basically intended to address a Cedar Rapids police department outdoor firing range (that is also used by surrounding cities/counties and the feds) that may or may not be located within 200 yards of some private homes, which may or may have been in existence prior to the existence of the firing range. The bill would create an exemption from existing zoning laws for this firing range and any other law enforcement outdoor firing ranges currently in existence that is within 200 yards of a residence/feedlot (of which there aren’t any, as far as we could ascertain).
- Iowa law requires a 90 day waiting period from the date the Respondent in a divorce is served with notice that a divorce petition has been filed, unless a judge waives the waiting period for good cause shown (which is usually some type of unavoidable emergency). This bill would allow (but not require) a judge to waive the 90 day waiting period upon agreement of both parties. Makes sense to me; however, we had the subcommittee meeting on this earlier this week and I predict that this bill is dead.
- Addresses penalties for juveniles who provide alcohol to a person under 21.
- Eliminates two-year statute of limitations for executing small claims judgment against renter for unpaid rent…. i.e., if you don’t pay your rent, and your landlord sues you and gets a judgment against you, the landlord can attempt to collect it forever (I think).
- County Attorneys are currently required to represent the “state” in Child in Need of Assistance proceedings, with the state being defined as the Department of Human Services – this bill would remove DHS as a party to a CINA case and thus allow county attorneys discretion to prosecute CINA cases as they see fit. This bill has already passed the full Judiciary Committee, and will probably pass the House (it did last year), but may or may not move forward in the Senate (it didn’t last year). Note that newly elected Rep. Dave Dawson helped draft this bill a few years ago in his (then) capacity of county prosecutor, and did an excellent job of explaining the somewhat complicated bill to the full Judiciary Committee.
- This is a clean-up bill that makes it clear that interpreters are required at every level and in every type of court proceeding if they are necessary, and that the cost of employing an interpreter cannot be assessed against the person utilizing the interpreter – the State has to pay
HSB 16 [Marti Anderson]: An Act relating to the nomination and appointment of district judges
- Requires district court judge to be a resident of the judicial district where the nomination occurred before assuming office.
HSB 17 [Dave Dawson]: An Act relating to the appointment and removal of clerks of the district court
- Allows the chief judge of a judicial district to appoint the district clerk of court (currently district court judges elect clerk) and fire the clerk (currently takes a majority vote of district court judges).
HSB 25 [Marti Anderson]: An Act relating to forfeiture of bail in criminal case
- Increases time granted to whomever posted bail to set aside bail forfeiture from sixty days to ninety days – i.e., if a criminal defendant fails to show up for court, his/her family and/or the bondsman now has 90 days to hunt him/her down before the court clams the bail money posted by the family or bondsman. This bill has already passed Judiciary.
- Increases late rent payment fees, re-defines various terms, amends several provisions in ways that benefit landlords.
HSB 31 [Vicki Lensing]: An act requiring in-state construction contracts and disputes thereof to be governed by Iowa law
- Voids any provisions in in-state construction contract that make contract subject to laws of another state or requires litigation in another state … makes sense to me.
- Increases penalty for first violation of this crime from an aggravated misdemeanor to a Class D felony, second violation from Class D felony to Class C felony. Defendant convicted of 2nd offense would now be subject to lifetime special sentence pursuant to 903B.1. The legislature sure does enjoy enhancing criminal penalties, even in the absence of any data that the enhancement will do anything whatsoever to make Iowa a safer place to live.
HSB 33 [Mary Wolfe]: An act relating to the sentencing of minors convicted of murder in the first degree
- Creates a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 years for a person who is convicted of Murder 1 for a murder committed prior to age 18; also allows judge to impose sentence of life without parole after making certain findings of fact as to why this is appropriate. Note that the ISBA has a bill proposing a 45 year mandatory minimum.
HSB 34 [Mary Wolfe]: An act relating to the practice/procedures of state public defender
- Public defender’s omnibus bill; among other provisions, it includes one that would require local judges to at least take into consideration the proximity of an attorney to a defendant when appointing contract attorneys to represent indigent defendants.
Each county has a list of attorneys who have contracted with the State Public Defender’s office to represent indigent criminal defendants (at a rate of $60 an hour) in cases the Public Defender cannot handle. An attorney isn’t required to have an office in the county seat (i.e., the city where the county courthouse is located) or even in the county itself to be eligible for the list, and under current law the judge is supposed to appoint the attorneys on a strict rotational basis, taking into consideration only “the experience of the lawyer and the difficulty of the case.” In some counties this means that there are dozens of attorneys on the list that live and work outside of the county, who must drive sometimes long distances to meet with their clients and/or attend court hearings, and who are appointed to cases at the same rate as attorneys who live and work in the county.
This bill would require judges to at least consider giving local counsel priority when appointing an attorney for an indigent defendant, which is a good thing for several reasons. First, it’s fiscally responsible give priority to local contract attorneys, when local counsel is available. Out-of-county attorneys bill the State .39 for each mile they drive to/from the county in which they were appointed to meet w/their client or attend a court hearing/deposition or any other case related proceeding. This adds up — in 2012 the Public Defender paid contract attorneys over $700,000 in mileage reimbursement alone. Since defendants are required to reimburse the State for all fees paid to their court appointed attorneys, indigent (i.e., poor) defendants given out of county contract attorneys get hit with an additional mileage fee that defendants provided with local contract attorneys aren’t required to pay - sometimes this amounts to hundreds of dollars over and above the fee for legal services. And since the Public Defender’s Office estimates that only about 10% of all contract attorney fees are actually collected (which isn’t too surprising, since we’re talking about poor people here), in the end it’s the State that is on the hook for all that mileage – i.e., for at least $630,000 of the $700,000 plus paid out in 2012 mileage reimbursement.
Appointing local counsel when possible is also more conducive to effective attorney/client communication. I am sure that out-of-county attorneys do the best they can to initiate and maintain contact with their clients, but again, people who have court appointed attorneys are generally poor, and they can’t afford to be driving 30/50/100 miles to/from meetings with their attorney. Sometimes a phone conference can be arranged – but a phone conference is simply not the same as a face to face meeting, not to mention that sometimes the defendant doesn’t have a phone, or has a phone number that is frequently not in service, or can’t reach the attorney by phone. And when a defendant is sitting in jail, s/he needs to meet with his/her contract attorney ASAP – a local attorney can get to the jail within a few hours of being appointed, while due to logistics it can take an out-of-county attorney considerably longer to make the trip.
Finally, Iowa’s rural and small town attorneys are a threatened species, and allowing the court to at least consider giving local counsel priority in court appointed cases should provide them with some much-needed support. Back when I graduated from law school (1992), judges generally didn’t appoint out of county attorneys to criminal cases, and the fact that I knew that there weren’t many attorneys in Clinton handling court appointed criminal cases and thus I would be able to obtain a lot of trial experience handling a lot cases while earning (just barely) enough money to pay my overhead was one of the reasons I decided to return to practice law in small town Clinton after I graduated from law school – the other (bigger) reason is that it allowed me to work with my mom and dad, but I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been sure of a fairly steady source of income from court appointed cases. Currently, a new attorney can set up shop in Davenport or Dubuque and pick up just as many court appointed cases as, say, my dad, who has live and worked in Clinton forever – so there’s a lot less incentive for a new attorney to set up shop in Clinton, or other rural county seats. So along with being fiscally responsible and fostering improved attorney/client communications, the provision in this bill requiring judges to at least consider giving priority to local counsel in court appointed cases will hopefully provide a little support for those attorneys who have chosen to live and work in Iowa’s more rural areas, and might just encourage a few new attorneys to do the same.
- This is a Workforce Development bill that hits employers w/certain penalties if they don’t cooperate with and/or if they misrepresent info during Department’s investigation into payment of benefits. Designed to encourage employers to take the Departments requests for info seriously, which will arguably allow the Department to process unemployment claims in a more timely and efficient manner.
HSB 36 [Rick Olson]: An act relating to certificate of merit affidavits
- (One of ) the Governor’s proposed tort reform bill(s); would require that within a certain relatively short time after filing a medical malpractice suit, the plaintiff (i.e., injured party, or the family of the injured party if the injury was fatal) would be required to file a statement by a doctor swearing that the lawsuit has merit. This is, realistically, a doctors vs. lawyers bill, and various versions of it have been filed in prior years, and representatives from both sides have been working for at least a few years to try to come up with a compromise. Maybe this is the year. Probably not, but maybe.
- This is a clean up bill clarifying who does what when an appeal is filed
- The infamous “Stand your Ground” bill – last session this passed the House on a straight party line vote (except for maybe Brian Quirk), then died in the Senate – as it would if it moves out of the House this year. Here’s a post I did on last session’s version of the bill; if it moves forward this year I’ll update that analysis to incorporate any new info/data.
- A non-custodial parent who is $2,000 behind on child support could be convicted of an aggravated misdemeanor, $10,000 or more behind would be a Class C felony. Also creates a mandatory minimum support obligation of $100 a month.
- This is a tort reform bill – currently a defendant in an auto accident personal injury case is not allowed to bring up the fact that the plaintiff wasn’t wearing a seat belt at trial – instead, if the plaintiff was not, in fact, wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, the judge automatically deducts 5% from whatever damages the jury awards to the plaintiff. This bill would allow defendant to argue that plaintiff was at least in part responsible for his/her injuries if s/he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, if the defendant can first prove to a judge that the fact plaintiff wasn’t wearing a seatbelt was a contributing factor in plaintiff’s injuries. The concern is that at least some members of a jury would be inappropriately prejudiced against an injured automobile accident victim if they were informed that the victim wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and “punish” the victim by not awarding any damages, even if it’s clear that the defendant was primarily at fault and thus the victim is clearly entitled to at least some recovery.
- This bill, which I sponsored along with Rep. Rick Olson, does away with the provision in current Iowa law that allows a judge to order the divorced parents of an adult child to pay up to 1/3 of the cost of his/her secondary education expense. I filed the same bill last year and it went nowhere; there’s no subcommittee meeting scheduled yet, so that doesn’t bode well for the bill’s future this session. Here’s a post from last year explaining my position; I could do a better job now but don’t want to waste my time if the bill is dead. So stay tuned.
- This bill grants cities immunity for injuries that occurr on “sledding hills” under certain circumstances.
OK, here’s what the official summary says about at least part of this bill: Current law provides that any person who intends to purchase a pistol or revolver is required to first obtain an annual permit to acquire pistols or revolvers unless the person is otherwise exempt from obtaining such a permit. The bill eliminates this type of mandatory permit and provides instead for an optional permit to acquire firearms in order to satisfy the requirements of federal law allowing the holder of such a permit to acquire firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer. A person is not required to obtain a permit to acquire firearms to purchase firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer if the person possesses a valid permit to carry weapons issued in accordance with Iowa law or if the person has otherwise completed a satisfactory national instant criminal background check required by federal law to purchase firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer.
I have not yet worked through quite what all that actually means, and whether it makes the law better or worse, or makes Iowa a safer or more dangerous place to live. Vicki and I will work on figuring it out prior to any subcommittee meeting , and we’d certainly appreciate any assistance from any of you.
- under current law, if the Governor delcares a state of emergency he has authority to restrict the use of firearms and even confiscate firearms from private citizens; this bill removes the Governor’s authority to do this. I’m actually good with this bill, I do believe. Or at least most of it. If for no other reason than I don’t want my brother the police officer to be required to attempt to collect guns from folks who have absolutely no intention of allowing them to be collected. Because Kevin has four children and a lovely wife and they would prefer to have him stay alive, as would I.
- if I’m reading it correctly, this bill allows the seizing agency (e.g., the local police or sheriff department) to keep any legal weapons seized and/or to sell them and keep the money. Currently, if seized firearms/ammunition are worth more than $500 they have to be turned over to the Dept. of Public Safety, and if they are sold the money has to be turned over to the State general fund. So … on the one hand, I’d just as soon keep things local, but would this bill encourage local law enforcement to seize more firearms, since now they can keep them all? Hmmm…..
- this bill has something to do with real estate transfers …. to be honest, at the moment that is the best I can do. I note that the Bar Association has registered in favor of the bill and the Bankers are undecided …. whatever that means.
HF 81 [Mark Smith]: A bill for an act concerning the confidentiality of certain information relating to holders of nonprofessional permits to carry weapons and permits to acquire pistols and revolvers
- This bill would require County Sheriffs to keep the lists of folks granted permits to carry weapons and/or acquire firearms confidential. Would appreciate constituent feedback on this one.
HJR 4 [Rick Olson]: A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Iowa relating to an individual’s right to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms
- So called “2nd Amendment” bill – language of bill is much broader than US 2nd Amendment and would arguably render any restrictions on firearms unconstitutional. This bill has not yet been scheduled for a subcommittee meeting.
Last year the House Public Safety Committee (which is the committee in which all the gun bills ran last year, and in which none of the gun bills are running this year – go figure), of which I was and am a member, actually passed an amended version of this bill with language identical to the “real” 2nd Amendment, and which would have passed in the Senate and presumably have been signed into law by the Governor. However, when the bill ran in the full House the majority party stripped out that language and substituted their original, broader language, despite the fact that they were well aware that by doing so, they were killing the bill in the Senate. Their choice, I suppose – maybe they’ll make a different one this time around. Here’s a post explaining that whole mess in a little more detail.