A bill making its way through the legislature sets a new penalty for drug runners who use secret compartments in vehicles to smuggle drugs. Representative David Tjepkes, a republican from Gowrie, says the crime would be a felony. The bill would make it a crime to “knowingly” possess, use, or control a false compartment in a vehicle with the intent to store, conceal, smuggle or transport “contraband.” The bill also makes it a crime to build one of these hiding places for drug running. Tjepkes says the bill’s important because most meth in Iowa is “imported.” He says illegal meth labs in Iowa manufacture no more than 20 percent of the meth consumed in Iowa. Over 30 percent of the drug seizures state troopers made last year involved secret compartments in a vehicle a trooper had pulled over. Tjepkes, a retired state trooper, says in one seizure, a trooper found half a million dollars in cash stashed in a false compartment. Tjepkes says the bill does not make it illegal to have a secret compartment in your vehicle, but makes it against the law to use it as a hiding place for drugs or drug money. “There are many legitimate uses for those types of compartments,” Tjepkes says. For example, he says people stash “valuables” like purses in a secret compartment in their vehicle. Representative Don Shoultz, a democrat from Waterloo, questions whether the new law would be effective. “In order to actually charge anyone with this particular offense and punish them, they would already have to be guilty of so many other things that I don’t know why you would bother,” Shoultz says. Representative Bruce Hunter, a democrat from Des Moines, says there’s no need for the new law as the existing “conspiracy to traffic drugs” law covers the construction or use of secret compartments. Hunter says the bill is just a “feel good” measure. The bill has already won approval in the Iowa House. It must get the backing of the Iowa Senate and Governor Vilsack before it becomes law. A few other states have such a law on the books.
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