The Iowa House has made minor changes in a bill that would require hospitals to notify law enforcement when they release someone who’s been hospitalized for a mental evaluation if that person has criminal charges filed against them or a pending arrest warrant.
Last June, Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas was shot to death by Mark Becker, a former student who taken to a Waterloo hospital’s psych ward after a crime spree the weekend before the shooting. Becker was released from the hospital a day before the murder, but law enforcement wasn’t notified of his release. Representative Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, has worked with the family in developing the legislation.
“When we set out on this process after the tragedy last summer, when I talked to the Thomas family, they just said, ‘We don’t want another family to have to go through what we’ve gone through,'” Grassley says.
The change approved by the House was minor, according to Grassley. It stipulates that a law enforcement official “shall retrieve” the suspect from the hospital.
“I just want to let the House Republicans know, the House Democrats know that you can feel comfortable in telling your constituents that we do now have ‘The Ed Thomas Bill'” Grassley says. “We have everyone on board and, most importantly, the family.”
Last week, Aaron Thomas — the son of the slain coach — testified before a House subcommittee, urging legislators to “do the right thing” and pass the bill. “I would like to thank the Thomas family for their tireless efforts,” Representative Dolores Mertz, a Democrat from Ottosen, said during House debate of the bill this afternoon.
Law enforcement groups — and the former Parkersburg police chief — lobbied for the bill. After raising some initial concerns, the Iowa Hospital Association has registered in support of the legislation. The senate must now endorse the change the House made in the bill, then it will go to Governor Culver, who has said he’ll sign it into law.