DES MOINES — Law officers no longer would be able to ticket a driver for not displaying a front license plate on a vehicle as a primary offense unless the citation was issued in conjunction with another violation, such as exceeding the posted legal speed limit, under a bill the Iowa Senate approved Tuesday.
Currently, Iowa law requires state-issued license plates be attached to the front and rear areas of most vehicles with an exception made for antique cars from 1948 or older. Senate File 419 would redefine an antique vehicle as at least 25 years old and would expand the number of vehicles exempt from having two license plates attached to their vehicles to include vehicles that require modifications to secure a plate, said Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, the bill’s floor manager.
Zumbach said the proposed change still would maintain and keep the front plate, but “it just has to be inside the vehicle and not necessarily displayed” and drivers cited for a secondary offense by a law enforcement for not having the plate attached to the front of the vehicle would have to have committed some other offense that was the primary reason for the stop.
“The way this bill is written, it’s very minimal,” Zumbach said in response to critics’ claims it would cost manufacturing and prison industries jobs by requiring fewer license plates to be produced.
“We’re not taking the plates off all cars. We’re taking them off antique cars and cars that no longer have a place to mount them. The vast majority of the cars that we’re going to see up and down the road will still have a front plate,” he continued.
Several Iowa law enforcement agencies registered opposed to Senate File 419, and Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, a retired law officer, detailed three examples where crimes he investigated were solved with the aid of evidence identifying criminals using vehicle front license plate images.
“To me, this legislation is doing nothing more than handcuffing the ability of law enforcement to do its job,” Kinney told his Senate colleagues before they voted 29-17 along party lines to send the bill to the Iowa House for consideration.
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“This is not per se defunding the police, but in a way it’s taking the tools away from the police that the police are able to use to catch criminals.”
Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said it was ironic that Republicans were taking a “cancel culture” approach to front license plates by taking away a tool that helps law officers do their jobs just one day after they chastised Democrats for not siding with law enforcement during a debate on “qualified immunity” legislation for peace officers.
“Today they just made it a lot harder to track down criminals by removing that requirement,” Wahls said.
According to a fiscal note prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, law officers issued 1,586 citations for failing to properly display a front license plate last fiscal year. There were 1,937 citations issued the year before that and 2,005 in fiscal 2018, based on LSA data.
The estimated cost to stop enforcing the front license plate violation ranged from $26,120 up to $77,370, according to the fiscal note estimate. Current fiscal year citations are expected to generate nearly $93,000 in $30 fines along with associated court costs and crime services surcharges.
Bill trims time in driver’s ed
In other action Tuesday, legislators got into a partisan war of words over a bill that relaxed requirements for parents who teach driver’s education to the home-schooled children.
Senate File 546 eliminated 30 hours of classroom instruction, dropped the number of hours from 40 to 30 for street and highway driving, reduced by one hour the practice time after sunset and before sunrise, clarified that parent-taught driver’s instruction would be open to all students using private instruction and allowed instructing parents to “work in tandem” when teaching their children’s driving skills, said Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence.
Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, became upset when majority Republicans voted down an amendment he offered that he said would standardize the process so driving instruction could be done by any parent but the classroom time still would be mandated for non-home schooling students under the current law.
“You’re discriminating. This is discriminatory on its face. Shame on you,” Bisignano argued. “Today you’re telling my constituents that they’re second-class and I resent it.”
Three Republicans voted for Bisignano’s amendment, which failed by a 20-25 margin.
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Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, offered to work on the issue via a separate bill dealing with education issues, but that failed to appease the Des Moines Democrat, and several senators made floor speeches about the partisanship that has been a hallmark of the chamber in recent years.
Crimes against older people established
Also Tuesday, senators voted 47-0 to approve Senate File 522, legislation that establishes the crime of older individual assault, with charges ranging from a simple misdemeanor to a Class D felony depending on the circumstances.
Other new criminal categories include theft against an older individual, financial exploitation of an older individual and elder abuse for crimes that include neglect, isolation of sexual exploitation carrying penalties ranging from serious misdemeanors to a Class C felony. The financial exploitation charge could carry up to a Class B felony depending on the amount of property, resources, benefits and other assets involved in the alleged fraudulent, deceptive or coerced activities.
“I think probably we all know of instances where this has occurred where elderly Iowans have been taken advantage of in one way or another,” Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, floor manager of the bill that also up the civil penalty for consumer fraud against seniors by $5,000.
Human trafficking task force proposed
Also finally, senators voted 47-0 to direct the state public safety commissioner to establish a human trafficking task force made up of a broad range of people.
The task force would investigate trafficking issues in Iowa, identify services available for victims, identify barriers that keep victims from seeking help, do research and recommend rehabilitation services for victims.
Senate File 521 requires the task force to report its findings to the Legislature by Nov. 1.
“This is a step to try to figure out how we can solve this problem and enhance what we’ve already done,” said Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who noted that being at the intersection of two major interstate highways makes Iowa a prime location for “this disgusting behavior and problem that we have in the state of Iowa.”
Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, said he hoped Iowa could adapt Nebraska’s sex-trafficking template as a model to more effectively deter and arrest people responsible for illegal trafficking of humans in Iowa.
“The scope of the problem is far more great than we would think,” Carlin told his Senate colleagues.
“If you were just to Google prostitution in any city in the state, you would see full-page ads with hourly rates for prostitutes around the state. So, clearly, there is not an effective deterrent that is discouraging the open advertising of prostitution in the state, which of course involves some measure of trafficking.”
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