Two state senators from southeast Iowa are hoping a death penalty amendment won’t stop lawmakers from passing a tougher sex offender bill this year.
State Sens. Tom Courtney, D–Burlington, and Gene Fraise, D–Fort Madison, are hoping lawmakers will vote on the sex offender bill without getting caught up in politics over getting the death penalty reinstated.
Courtney said it’s an issue that should be discussed on its own and not attached to another bill.
“If we want to debate the death penalty it probably should be just a death penalty bill rather than an amendment,” Courtney said.
Lawmakers blocked debate Wednesday morning on a death penalty amendment to the sex offender bill after it was ruled by Democratic President Sen. Jack Kibbie, of Emmetsburg, that it wasn’t germane to the original bill. Sen. Larry McKibben, R–Marshalltown, introduced the amendment.
Republican Floor Leader Sen. Stewart Iverson, of Dows, deferred debate on the bill, which means he will have to lift that deferment before lawmakers resume talks, Fraise said.
Fraise said lawmakers ruled the amendment wasn’t germane because amendments usually are minor adjustments to the original proposal.
“It expands the bill from its intent,” Fraise said. “It’s a House bill and you can amend it but you’re supposed to improve the bill. This actually changes the whole focus of the bill. It expands the bill beyond the scope of what the intent was when the House sent it over here. That’s why he ruled it not germane to the bill.”
Courtney and Fraise stressed the need for the sex offender bill and how lawmakers need to pass it before the end of this session.
“I don’t want to see this happen again to another child,” Courtney said. “I just hope the death penalty amendment doesn’t hold it up.”
Lawmakers devised the bill in response to the abduction and slaying of 10–year–old Jetseta Gage, of Cedar Rapids, on March 24. Some of the highlights of the bill include prohibiting an offender from living 1,000 feet from child care facilities or schools, establishing a sex offender registry database task force and calling for two more years of supervision after release.
During supervision, a person would have to wear an ankle bracelet and supply a DNA sample. Fraise said a Senate subcommittee, which he was on, had other amendments to the original bill.
Fraise said the subcommittees amendments worked within the structure of the original bill and dealt mainly with the DNA aspect. Those amendments never were discussed because of the bill being deferred.
Iverson said lawmakers had the choice of voting on the issue, but opted not to because of the ruling. Iverson said he disagreed with the ruling and feels the amendment still is germane to the original bill.
“I clearly feel it was an abuse of power,” Iverson said of the ruling.
He said lawmakers need to do their job and debate the issues and vote accordingly.
“If they don’t want to pass it, they can just vote it down,” Iverson said. “Part of our job is to debate the issues.”
Iverson said the sex offender bill and the death penalty will come up again by the end of the session. The session is supposed to end this Friday which is when lawmakers stop receiving their per diem expenses. The Legislature could continue past that point and has done so in previous years.
Although Iverson feels the death penalty will likely come up again for discussion, Courtney said Democratic Floor Leader Mike Gronstal, of Council Bluffs, said it won’t be debated. Gronstal was unavailable for comment as of press time.
Courtney questioned why the Republicans didn’t call for the death penalty to be debated in previous years when they had control.
“The Republicans had eight years that they were in total control,” Courtney said. “Why weren’t we debating this. They had 29 votes in the Senate last year. Why wasn’t this bill heard then?”
Courtney said his record on the death penalty speaks for itself and said he would have to read any proposals before making a final decision. He said he doesn’t say how he will vote until he reads a bill and learns what’s in it.
“I would look at a bill, but my record has been that I’m opposed to the death penalty,” Courtney said. “I’ve always been opposed to it.”
Fraise said he’s opposed to the death penalty. Both lawmakers said life in prison without parole is a far worse punishment. Fraise said the death penalty gives the perpetrator the easy way out.
“If you serve the rest of your life in the prison and if you’re a child molester the other inmates look down at you as a very bad person,” Fraise said. “They treat them badly. In a lot of those cases those child molesters have to be kept in isolation to keep them from getting killed by the other inmates or beaten up.”
Besides being in fear for their lives, the child molester has to think of what they’ve done, Fraise said. Courtney said life in prison without parole is far worse than the death penalty.
Original: Hawk Eye (2007)