- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Lawmakers in the Iowa Senate and House have agreed that kidnapping penalties need to be tougher, but they’re having a hard time reaching a compromise on how long offenders should remain in jail.

In a 2-1 vote Tuesday, a three-member House judiciary subcommittee approved a bill seeking tougher kidnapping penalties for cases involving minors. This original legislation from the Senate maintains an earned-time option for inmates, allowing them to reduce their sentences for good behavior.

But the committee also approved an amendment Tuesday that eliminates earned time altogether, bringing the legislation closer to a bill developed in the House.

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said he intends to continue his pursuit of earned time elimination, though lawmakers in the Senate stand by keeping the incentive.

“It’s a situation where, unfortunately, it’s placing incentives for inmates over protection of children,” he said.

Legislation from both ends came in response to the abduction and killing of 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard last spring. 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.

By eliminating earned time, Baltimore said he believes children’s safety remains the priority.

“I don’t believe in letting them out early simply to tell them to behave themselves and not throw food,” Baltimore said.

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

Hogg said there haven’t been any official recommendations to do away with earned time, and the incentive program leads inmates to be more compliant in prison. He also said earned time is a way to get inmates with sex offenses to participate in treatment programs. That way, when they are released they are less of a threat to the public, Hogg said.

Hogg said bringing the parties together is key to developing effective legislation.

“I think the best approach is to find legislation that has unanimous bipartisan support, like our original bill did,” Hogg said.

The legislation now goes to the full House Judiciary Committee.

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