- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A bill that aims to increase penalties for offenders in kidnapping cases involving minors won overwhelming support Tuesday from the Iowa House.

Lawmakers approved the measure on a 96-3 vote. It now returns to the Senate for final consideration.

The bill as approved by the House would toughen penalties for kidnapping offenders in cases involving victims 17 years old and younger. It also would eliminate earned-time credit that reduces an inmate’s sentence for good behavior. The original Senate version maintained the credit.

“I simply cannot condone the thought of allowing inmates to reap the rewards of being released early simply because they behaved themselves behind bars, especially when they’ve decided that the victim that they choose to offend upon is a child,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone.

Baltimore’s changes bring the bill closer to a measure developed in the House.

Legislation from both sides came in response to the abduction and killing of 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard last spring. Authorities said Shepard and a 12-year-old friend were kidnapped by Michael Klunder on their way home from school in Dayton, a small town 60 miles north of Des Moines. Shepard’s friend escaped, but authorities said Klunder killed Shepard and later committed suicide.

Klunder had been released from prison in 2011 after serving 20 years for two previous kidnapping convictions. Though he was sentenced to 41 years in prison, his term was cut short for good behavior under Iowa law, which gives inmates just more than a day of credit for every day served.

Rep. Mary Lynn Wolfe, D-Clinton, said a task force had been charged with evaluating Iowa’s kidnapping laws following the Shepard case. The task force developed a report outlining several recommendations intended to better address the issue, but Wolfe said the elimination of the earned-time credit was not one of them.

“We have a tendency to react to horrific acts of criminal depravity in a sincere desire to fix the problem and prevent it from happening again,” she said.

“The problem with doing that is, over the years, our criminal justice laws, our sentencing structure, has evolved or devolved into a convoluted, complicated and often inconsistent - I don’t want to say mess, but there are often problems.”

And Sen. Robert Hogg-D-Cedar Rapids, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, has said that creating exceptions to earned time would lead to significant problems within the correctional system.

But Baltimore said Shepard’s situation might have been different had Klunder served his full sentence.

“I don’t need research for this,” he said. “I know for a fact that had this poor public policy not been in place, we would not have experienced the tragedy and not made the families experience the tragedy that we all experienced this past summer.”

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