A bill named for a football coach who was shot to death last summer by a former player is now law.
Governor Chet Culver signed the Ed Thomas Bill into law this morning at the Iowa Hall of Pride in Des Moines. Both Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Legislature supported the measure.
“If it weren’t for Coach Thomas, his leadership and the great admiration and respect all of us in the state and across the country have for him and his family, this wouldn’t have happened,” Culver said. “This is really the least that we can do.” The law will 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, Thomas was shot to death by Mark Becker, 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 police weren’t notified of his release.
“This was a horrific tragedy and we don’t want any other family to ever go through this,” Culver said. “If we have the right laws in place, it’s possible to prevent something like this from ever happening again.”
Ed Thomas’ wife and two sons stood behind Culver as he signed the measure into law. “We want you to know that you remain in our thoughts and our prayers,” Culver told the Thomas family. “It’s a bittersweet day, but it’s a great day for Iowa.” Thomas’ son, Aaron, thanked lawmakers for supporting the bill.
“My dad was a government teacher and I think this is a bill he’d be very proud of,” Thomas said. “Obviously, we wish we didn’t have to have a bill in my dad’s name, but the whole goal from day one was – if we can get this done and no family will have to go through what we went through…even if it’s just one other person who won’t have to endure this, then it’s well worth our time and effort.”
Law enforcement groups and the former Parkersburg police chief lobbied for the bill. Under the new law, hospitals will face a $1,000 fine for the first violation and $2,000 fine for the second. At the bill signing ceremony, video of Ed Thomas coaching the Aplington-Parkersburg football team was played on a large screen. A blownup image of a Sport Illustrated cover featuring Thomas was also on display.