The Iowa House has given final approval to a bill that will forbid convicted sex offenders from working, volunteering or even loitering in schools, day cares, libraries, public swimming pools and other places where kids congregate.

Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield, was among the group that worked behind-the-scenes to develop the legislation. “It will give law enforcement a tool that they can really use to protect our children,” Baudler said this afternoon to open House debate.

Baudler, a retired state trooper, vowed to stand with any legislator who gets grief for their “yes” vote. “Because of the emotion surrounding this issue some of you have had some concerns about the politics of this during the next election. I will give you my word here today that if that happens…you just call me, and I will be there,” Baudlder said. “And I can almost guarantee you that the law enforcement community will be with me.”

Police and sheriffs complain the current law isn’t working and they have no authority to arrest sex offenders who, for example, go to a park to watch children play. Under this bill, the sex offender could be arrested for loitering in that newly-declared “exclusionary zone” where convicted sex offenders are barred.

House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, made an emotional plea for votes. “I ask everyone to please support Senate File 340. We’re going it for our children. We’re doing it for our families. We’re doing it for our schools,” Murphy said.

“And that’s the most important thing we can do, when we adjourn hopefully in the next day or two, that we can walk away and say that we’ve done something to improve our communities and made ’em safe, especially from those that are the biggest threat to our children.”

Once the bill is law, the restriction that bars sex offenders from living within 2000 feet will not apply to all, but just the most dangerous criminals. Representative Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, objects to that.

“You’ve made a decision that somebody gets to move in between my house and my daughter’s school and that’s why I’m a ‘no’ vote on the bill,” Rants said.

But Representative Lance Horbach, a Republican from Tama who helped author the original restriction that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school, urged legislators to support the changes.

“I consider myself rudely, rudely and arrogantly tough on sex offenders…but I played a role in creating a piece of legislation called the 2000 foot rule that only protected my constituents and their children and grandchild when the sex offender is asleep,” Horbach said.

The bill, which forces sex offenders to report more information about themselves, like their internet user names, now goes to Governor Culver who has indicated he’ll sign it into law.

Click on the audio link below to listen to the nearly hour-long debate. 

AUDIO: House debate…MP3 58 min