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Iowa Senate wants Department of Public Safety cold case unit

Iowa Senate wants Department of Public Safety cold case unit

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DES MOINES — Law enforcement again would have the tools to try to solve long-standing criminal mysteries under legislation the Iowa Senate passed Tuesday to re-establish a cold case investigation unit within the state Department of Public Safety.

Senate File 561, which passed on a 46-0 vote, would assign two full-time DPS agents to a unit tasked with conducting follow-up criminal probes after an initial criminal investigation has been completed by law enforcement. The focus would be on unsolved murders, missing children and missing adults presumed to be dead, said Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, the bill’s floor manager.

Currently, no specific DPS unit is assigned to handle existing cold cases, but the major crimes unit takes responsibility for investigating unsolved cases as time and resources allow.

“This legislation means a lot to families,” said Sen. Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, a retired Johnson County law officer who told his Senate colleagues of the unforgettable feeling of satisfaction that comes with telling family members that authorities had arrested a suspect after “20-some years” in a cold-case homicide probe.

“Solving these cases is huge,” said Kinney. “Law enforcement does not give up. Sometimes they get pushed aside and you keep bringing them back.”

Likewise, Sen. Tim Goodwin, R-Burlington, read comments from a Sigourney man whose mother’s 1999 murder has gone unsolved and that the process is “grueling to endure.” Sen. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, referenced the “haunting” 1979 murder case of Michelle Martinko that was resolved with the 2020 conviction of Jerry Burns in pushing for the nearly $340,000 in state funding through fiscal 2024 needed to re-establish the unit.

Jeff Taylor said a similar unit existed for three years up until a decade ago. Some cold cases as far back as 40 years were solved. “I believe it’s important that criminals be brought to justice — criminals that have not been apprehended who have not been tried — but in addition to that we bring hope and closure as much as possible to families, if not to the victims themselves,” he said.

The bill now goes to the Iowa House for consideration before it would make it to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk.

“I think this is something that the people of Iowa deserve, and I wholeheartedly support this legislation,” said Kinney.

In other action, senators voted 46-0 to send Reynolds legislation that would regulate low-speed electric bikes similar to regular bicycles on streets, highways, bike lanes, multi-use paths and other places of operation. House File 493 would impose a 20 mph speed limit for low-speed electric bikes where a limit is not posted.

Senators also voted 45-1 to send the governor legislation that would prohibit public and government entities from seeking disclosure of personal information on donors contributing to nonprofit organizations that do not directly engage in political campaigns, such as PACs. A person who violates House File 309 commits a civil penalty carrying a fine of $2,500 to $7,000 and a person who knowingly violates the prohibition could be charged with a serious misdemeanor with a penalty of 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

By voice vote, senators approved Senate Resolution 6, which deferred to the end of the 2021 session confirmation of some appointees that Reynolds has made or will make to state boards, commissions and department leadership posts.

Normally, the Iowa Senate is supposed to complete confirmations on all nominees submitted by the governor or an appointment authority other than the governor by April 15 unless senators agree to make other arrangements. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said the action was needed to allow more time due to this year’s delay in receiving the March 1 appointments.

To win confirmation, gubernatorial and all other relevant appointees must receive an affirmative two-thirds majority vote of the 50-member chamber, or at least 34 senators. Republicans currently hold a 32-18 edge in the Senate.

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