DES MOINES — A week after a proposal to expand Iowa’s medical cannabis program was thwarted, more legislation is moving through the system this week ahead of the key legislative deadline known as the funnel.
In the House, where the expansion proposal died last week, a new, simpler bill is moving that would extend the current, limited program that is set to expire July 1. The new House bill also would, if the federal government were to reclassify cannabidiol as a medicinal product, duplicate the action in Iowa.
In the Senate, Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, on Tuesday introduced legislation that would expand the current program by permitting the growth and sale of medical cannabis, add to the list of ailments covered for treatment and reclassify medical cannabis on the state level. Zaun said his bill is unlikely to get passed ahead of this week’s deadline, but he has been told by Senate Republican leadership the bill will be duplicated as a funding bill, which can be introduced and debated after this week’s deadline.
Protesters who intentionally block an interstate highway to slow traffic and create a potentially dangerous situation could face significantly stiffer penalties under a bill that cleared a Senate State Government subcommittee Tuesday.
Senate Study Bill 1135 would make the action — like a post-2016 election protest on Interstate 80 near Iowa City — a serious misdemeanor on first offense that would escalate to an aggravated misdemeanor and a Class D felony carrying a five-year prison term and $7,500 fine on subsequent violations.
Critics saw the bill as an infringement on peaceful protests.
The penalty for possessing marijuana for a first-time offender would be significantly reduced under a bill that cleared a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.
Senate File 280 would change current Iowa law so possession of five grams or less of marijuana would be a simple misdemeanor punishable by no more than 30 days in jail and/or a fine of at least $65 but not more than $625.
Currently, first-offense possession of marijuana is a serious misdemeanor punishable by confinement for not more than six months and/or a fine of not more than $1,000.
The bill does not modify the penalties for second or subsequent possession of marijuana.
Iowa businesses with more than 10 employees would be required to submit employment documents to the federal government for verification under a bill that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 9-4 margin Tuesday.
Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, said Senate File 172 is needed to aid employers following the law while competitors unfairly are employing undocumented aliens at substandard wages and no benefits.
Critics of the bill said it appears to be an unwelcoming, anti-immigrant measure that would push people into a shadow economy and they questioned what problem it sought to fix.
A Senate Judiciary subcommittee voted 2-1 Tuesday to approve a change to the judicial nominating process that would give the governor more power in filling vacancies on the Iowa bench.
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Currently, nominating commissions are made up of gubernatorial appointees and members chosen by the State Bar Association. The proposed change in Senate File 327 would make the governor’s appointees voting members and the bar association’s appointees nonvoting advisory members. There would be a transmission period where the 16 commission members would only be appointed by the governor by May 2022.
Critics of the bill said Iowa has an exemplary system of selecting judges that is being changed for ideological reasons based on a couple of court decisions unpopular with conservatives.
Right to try
Senators are taking another shot a passing “right-to-try” legislation that would make it easier for terminally ill patients to get access to experimental drugs.
Senate Study Bill 1115, which won unanimous Senate Commerce Committee support, would permit manufacturers of investigative drugs, biological product or devices to make them available to eligible patients with terminal illnesses for use as a treatment as long as they provided written informed consent.
Under the bill, an eligible patient’s physician must acknowledge the patient’s illness is terminal and recommend the patient try an investigative drug, biological product or device.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources would be able to set campsite and cabin rental fees without coming to the Legislature for approval under a bill advanced by a House Natural Resources subcommittee Tuesday.
HSB 166 would allow the department to set rates for cabins and campsites that would be competitive with private campgrounds and practice dynamic pricing.
The honey bee would become the state insect under HJR 10, which was approved by a House Natural Resources subcommittee Tuesday.
Rep. Rob Taylor, R-West Des Moines, told the subcommittee there are approximately 1,500 Iowa beekeepers managing around 30,000 colonies of honeybees that produce more than 3 million pounds of honey annually. Bees, he said, pollinate approximately 75 percent of the fruit, nut and vegetable plants grown in the United States.
HSB 150 to impose a service fee on wire transfers of money as a way to discourage criminal use of wire transfers to move money was approved 14-6 by the House Judiciary Committee.
Chairman Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said it is modeled after an Oklahoma law that has been successfully used by law enforcement to intercept criminal drug money. The fee would be 1 percent of the money transferred.
Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, called it a tax on the poor who use wire transfer to send money to dependents.
The bill includes a tax credit to offset the service fee. Money not claimed through the tax credit would remain in the financial crime fund created by the bill. The money could be used by the Department of Public Safety for criminal investigations.