Written by Shelley Russell, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
WATERLOO (KWWL) -
A set of bills that would toughen up laws for kidnappers and sex offenders could be on the governor's desk in a matter of weeks if some Iowa lawmakers get their way.
Senate study bills 3079 and 3076 came about after the kidnapping and murder of 15 year-old Kathlynn Shepard last May.
Michael Klunder is believed to have kidnapped the teen from Dayton, Iowa; he was released from prison after serving 20 years for prior kidnapping convictions.
Some state lawmakers believe the abduction and murder of Shepard could have been prevented if Iowa had stricter laws, which is why the bills have made their way through a Senate committee so quickly.
"In general, I think we do need to do a better job in Iowa of protecting our kids, and if these two bills get passed and signed by the governor, we know that it'll be a better tool for law enforcement to perhaps prevent this from happening in the future," said Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Democrat representing Cedar Falls.
Danielson said fellow lawmakers want to see stricter laws for sex offenders and kidnappers in Iowa, which is why a Senate committee has passed a pair of bills that would do just that.
Senate Study Bill 3079 aims to toughen up laws against people who kidnap kids younger than 16. If passed into law, it would increase penalties from a Class "C" felony to a Class "B" felony, which Danielson said essentially means longer sentences and more jail time.
The other bill filed, Senate Study Bill 3076, aims to increase penalties for sex offenders, particularly those sex offenders who commit an offense while they're juveniles.
According to Danielson, under this bill juvenile offenses would be considered worse than they are now, and instead of being sealed, they could actually be used later in court.
"We know that there's specific tools that we can use to prevent another Klunder-type incident in the future," Danielson said. "You can't prevent them all -- nothing is 100 percent -- but we believe this would have given law enforcement additional tools for somebody like him to say, 'No, you can't get out. You have to serve prison longer.' And we think it would have made a difference."
Danielson said the bills have to make it out of committee to become eligible for debate by next Friday.
He said he's optimistic that will happen, and anticipates these bills will eventually be on Gov. Branstad's desk to sign into law.
"There is no doubt we need to do a better job of protecting our children and, anytime we can learn from particular incidents and make changes that will make it better in the long run, we should do that," said Danielson.
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