DES MOINES (AP) — Legislation designed to improve police response when Iowa children go missing won Senate subcommittee approval Monday.
Under the proposal, funding would be offered to local law enforcement agencies that want to update public notification systems about missing children. The state sex offender registry would be updated with registrants ranked based on the risk they pose and the statute of limitations would be lifted on prosecuting the sex abuse of children.
Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, who is sponsoring the bill, said he hopes the proposal could help prevent cases like one that occurred last summer, when two young cousins went missing in July while riding their bikes in Evansdale. The bodies of the two girls, Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook, were found by hunters in a wildlife area in December, and no arrests have been made.
Danielson said the legislation was designed to provide tools to law enforcement handling the early days of a missing child case. He said relatives of the cousins told him that during the investigation, a police review of the registered sex offenders in that part of the state moved slowly because the names on the list were all classified the same way. Danielson said a registry where offenders are ranked based on the likelihood they could attack again would help police focus quickly on potential suspects.
Danielson said he was focused on improving the action taken immediately after a child is reported missing.
“The goal is to improve the ability to get the children home safely,” Danielson said.
Cedar Falls resident Robin Arnold led a charge after hearing about the cousins to improve the response to missing child cases, gathering 1,500 signatures she presented at the hearing before the State Government Subcommittee.
“I listened to it for seven days, every day saying we have no reason to believe the children had been abducted. On the seventh day when they said they had been abducted, I cried and prayed and started writing,” she said.
Changing the statute of limitations on prosecuting sex offenders would mean that in the case of an arrest in a missing child case, the accused could be prosecuted any old charges were on his or her record, Danielson said. He said that meant police could go after the “totality of that potential criminal’s background.”
Currently, those listed in the sex offender registry are ranked based on the crimes on which they were convicted. This bill would change the ranking system and base it on an assessment of the risk that they would reoffend, which Danielson said would help law enforcement officers determining the potential suspects in a missing child case.
The statute of limitations for prosecuting sex abuse crimes against children in Iowa is 10 years. Danielson said the bill would remove that limit, noting that “those crimes and the effect they have on people never go away.”
The bill would also set up a $2 million fund to provide grants to law enforcement departments that want to update their alert systems, such as through text alerts or social media.
Danielson and Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Milo, approved the bill, with a third member of the subcommittee not in attendance. Danielson said it will get a full committee hearing in the next two weeks.