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Iowa Politics Roundup: Culver Completes Action on 2010 Bills, Hails New Weapons-Permit Law PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 30 April 2010 12:52

Governor Chet Culver completed action Thursday on all of the 196 bills approved by the 2010 legislature and maintained that he fulfilled a campaign promise made five years ago to uphold the Second Amendment when he signed a bill making Iowa the 38th "shall issue" state regarding weapons permits.

"I'm a man of my word," Culver said in signing the weapons-permit bill in a Statehouse ceremony, surrounded by legislative leaders and both Republican and Democratic legislators.

Senate File 2379 largely takes away the discretion of county sheriffs in issuing weapons permits. It was touted by supporters as standardizing the process in all of Iowa's 99 counties and was backed by the National Rifle Association, Iowa Sportsman Federation, and Iowa Carry, Inc.

Culver called the bill a "common-sense piece of legislation" that "strikes an appropriate balance." The bill does not mean automatic approval of a weapons permit, and sheriffs will still be able to deny permits to those who are perceived as a danger to themselves or the community, and those who are thought likely to commit a violent act with a firearm. However, it provides that Iowans start with an assumption that an application will be approved.

"I believe there doesn't need to be any conflict between the freedom to carry firearms and public safety," Culver said. "Instead, I believe that law-abiding citizens who are placed in situations in which their life and property are threatened should be able to protect themselves, and their families."

Five of the seven Iowa county sheriffs who vocally supported the legislation attended Thursday's bill signing.

"It's time for the standardization across the state," said Jones County Sheriff Mark Denniston. "The sheriffs that are here have been 'shall issue' ... We all have knowledge of other citizens in other counties that don't have the opportunity to get a permit if they so choose. We just all believe that they should have that opportunity."

Denniston said the issue of the new law taking away a sheriff's discretion has gotten blown out of proportion.

"I'm not going to change my ways if my heart tells me I shouldn't issue that permit; I'm not going to issue it," Denniston said. "Nothing's going to change for me. The people we have running around out here that shouldn't have firearms, they aren't going to come into us to get a permit anyway. If they want to carry, they're going to carry."

While Thursday's bill-signing had the appearance of bipartisanship, many groups had lobbied against the bill, including all of the state's law-enforcement associations: the Iowa State Sheriffs & Deputies Association, Iowa Association of Chiefs of Police & Peace Officers, Iowa State Police Association, State Police Officers Council, and the Iowa Police Executive Forum.

"Our statewide association was dead-set against this," said Muscatine County Sheriff Dave White, a supporter of the bill. He said the association opposed the measure because it felt it would erode the power of county sheriffs. "We're an organization with 99 members, and not everybody's going to agree on every issue. We had two statewide meetings to discuss it. ... The line was drawn. Today, our side won."

Other non-law enforcement groups that opposed the bill include the Iowa Gun Owners, Iowa County Attorneys Association, the Iowa State Association of County Supervisors, the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the Iowa Psychiatric Society, Teamsters Local 238, the League of Women Voters, and the Iowa Medical Society.

White said he's denied only six applicants the right to carry a concealed weapon in the past 15 months because of their criminal histories. Under the new law, sheriffs can still deny weapons permits, but must put the reasons in writing. There's also an appeal process.

Former IASB Leader Reveals Little to Oversight Committee but Denies Wrongdoing

Former Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) Executive Director Maxine Kilcrease made her long-awaited appearance Thursday before the legislature's Government Oversight Committee but said very little. She often cited her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself, said a number of times that she didn't not have all the information in front of her, and refused to comment because of pending civil litigation.

One of the few answers Kilcrease did give related to open records laws. Representative Kurt Swain (D-Bloomfield) asked if expanding the open-records law to allow public access to the records of the IASB would impede its ability to function. (Culver last Thursday signed legislation requiring the IASB to comply with existing open-records and open-meetings provisions.)

"I do not think that that would cause a problem, notwithstanding, of course, the fact that it is a private non-profit," Kilcrease said.

The legislative committee met Thursday to further investigate alleged IASB misuse of taxpayer dollars, including charges that Kilcrease increased her salary without board approval, increased the salaries of other employees while others were laid off, and directed her attorney to withhold information from the IASB board.

Kilcrease appeared only after a subpoena from the committee was served on her last weekend. An attorney for Kilcrease on Tuesday filed a motion to quash the subpoena, but a district judge on Wednesday declined to intervene. Kilcrease's attorney, Sean Spellman, argued that statements made by lawmakers investigating the IASB infringed on Kilcrease's constitutional rights.

Spellman again stated his disapproval with the committee process Thursday, saying, "It is not appropriate for these matters to be litigated in this forum."

Kilcrease's attorney also told lawmakers that Kilcrease had a lawful contract with IASB, that she was improperly terminated, and that she did not break the law. He said that Kilcrease "inherited a disorganized and financially strapped organization that lacked guidance." However, Kilcrease later declined to answer questions by lawmakers on the state of the association when she took over on July 1, 2009.

"I'm disappointed because if I got this right, Mr. Spellman, you said that Maxine inherited financial problems -- a disorganized, financially strapped organization -- and I think some of our questions have been to those comments, and I'm not sure we've gotten answers on that," said Representative Vicki Lensing (D-Iowa City), co-chair of the Government Oversight Committee.

Among the questions that Kilcrease did not answer: if she returned her salary increase, whether she used IASB funds to travel, and whether she denied board access during an audit.

Also testifying were LeGrande Smith, IASB staff attorney; Mary Gannon, IASB attorney and lobbyist; Margaret Buckton, vice president of Iowa School Finance Information Services; and Larry Sigel, president of Iowa School Finance Information Services.

Smith and Gannon both received large pay raises under Kilcrease's watch that were not negotiated or reviewed by the IASB board. Smith saw his salary increase from $145,000 to $165,000, while Gannon's went from $96,000 to $125,000. Both said they weren't surprised with their raises because they knew Kilcrease was doing a review to bring IASB salaries in-line with those of similar groups in other states.

"I didn't think it was strange because she said she was conducting a top-to-bottom review," Smith said. "I certainly wish I would have questioned it now."