- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - With Iowa lawmakers expecting to adjourn within days, some are already looking forward to next year and the chance to renew efforts to pass legislation that failed this session.

That includes several high profile bills, such as proposals to toughen penalties for offenders in kidnapping cases involving minors and prohibit the use of webcams or teleconferencing as a means of dispensing abortion-inducing drugs to patients in remote locations.

A bill that used tax breaks and other enticements to encourage broadband Internet expansion in rural area also likely will come up again. The House surprisingly rejected that bill last week.

The bill targeting offenders in kidnapping cases involving minors was prompted by the abduction and killing of 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard last spring in Dayton, a community about 60 miles north of Des Moines. Authorities blamed a former convict, Michael Klunder, for the killing. He killed himself after the incident.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the goals of the bill, which would increase criminal penalties in cases involving victims ages 17 and younger or perpetrators with previous kidnapping convictions. Under the legislation, convictions would bring a 25-year prison sentence.

However, legislators couldn’t agree on the issue of earned-time credit, which shaves an inmate’s sentence by up to half for good behavior.

The House approved a measure eliminating the practice, with Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, claiming the Shepard case could have been avoided had Klunder been kept in jail. Klunder had been sentenced to 41 years in prison for two previous kidnapping convictions, but his term was significantly reduced for good behavior.

The Senate rejected elimination of the credit, which Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, called a valuable correctional tool.

“That’s not something I’m going to go along with and in my discussions with them, they had no interest in doing the bill without that,” Hogg said.

Hogg said he “absolutely” will pursue increasing penalties for kidnapping offenders next year, and he hopes lawmakers can reach an agreement.

Baltimore also said he’s dedicated to returning to the issue, but he’s committed to eliminating the earned-time credit for offenders like Klunder.

Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said he’ll try again to ban the practice of distributing abortion-inducing drugs via webcams or teleconferencing systems.

The Iowa Board of Medicine last summer adopted rules regarding the administration of abortion pills that were set to go into effect last fall. The rules didn’t explicitly mention telecommunication services but required the physical presence of a physician.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which provides abortion pills at remote locations throughout Iowa, challenged the regulations, and a judge ruled the organization could keep using video conferencing to distribute the drugs until the matter is resolved by the courts.

A bill backed by Windschitl intended to outlaw telemedicine abortions cleared the Republican-controlled House in February, but the Democratic-led Senate never took up the measure.

Windschitl said he thinks Iowans want the practice banned, and he plans to bring telemedicine abortion legislation back again for consideration.

“It’s something that I believe Iowans want us to pursue,” he said.

Windschitl also backed a bill that would legalize the sale and use of novelty and consumer fireworks, but he said it came up too late in the session to reach consensus and move it forward. He and other lawmakers have expressed interest in pursuing it next year.

An effort to make texting while driving a primary offense, allowing officers to pull over drivers solely for such a violation, was approved in the Senate, but the House didn’t take up the measure. Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, said he intends to do further research on the issue during the interim and return next year to take another stab at it.

The Senate also supported a measure to expand preschool offerings in Iowa, but the House declined to take up the proposal.

The House’s surprise rejection last week of a broadband Internet bill likely means the proposal will return next year, if it’s not resurrected in the final days of the current session.

Nine Republicans joined with Democrats in voting down the bill, which Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, said would have handed out tax credits and property tax incentives to telecommunications companies without detailing what they’d have to do to qualify for the money.

“That to me sounds like a blank check that I’m not willing to sign,” he said.

The Legislature that convenes next January could look decidedly different, as it will follow the November general election. Republicans currently hold a majority in the House, and Democrats control the Senate

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