The Iowa Senate has voted to impose mandatory prison sentences of at least 25 years on anyone convicted of sexually abusing a child under the age of 13. But the Iowa County Attorneys Association — the people who prosecute crimes — says such a lengthy prison sentence will discourage family members from reporting abuse.

Senate Co-Leader Jeff Lamberti, a Republican lawyer from Ankeny who co-authored the proposal, disagrees. Lamberti argues that if this law had been in effect several years ago, then Jetseta Gage — the Cedar Rapids girl slain last spring by a convicted sex offender — would be alive today because the offense that Roger Bentley had been convicted of earlier would have required a 25-year sentence” and he would have been in prison last spring. “That’s what we’re trying to do is have a zero tolerance for serious sex offenders,” Lamberti says.

The county attorneys also say defendants facing a 25-year prison sentence will be less likely to accept a plea bargain, forcing more young kids who’ve been abused to take the stand in a trial. Lamberti rejects that argument, too. “It is traumatic to put a child through a trial, but we have to consider that if we allow these people back out on the street after two years, three years, five years, we are potentially putting other children at risk,” Lamberti says.

He says the county attorneys are “just plain wrong.” Lamberti accuses the county attorneys of trying to avoid trials at all cost. “I’m really disappointed they would come out and oppose this bill,” Lamberti says. The legislation’s next stop is in the House Judiciary Committee. It must clear that panel by Friday or it’ll be dead for the year.