Criminals wouldn’t be able to “buy” their way out of community service under legislation that has cleared the Iowa Senate.

A recently enacted state law gave judges the authority to let those convicted of lesser crimes make a contribution to a charity of their choice in order to skip court-ordered community service. Senator Gene Fraise, a Democrat from Fort Madison, says the state’s judges don’t like it.

“The courts have told us they have no way of tracking whether those people make those contributions or not,” Fraise says.

Fraise sees irony in the current state law. “You make a donation to a charitable organization and you become a real nice person because you committed a crime, and so I just can’t accept that,” Fraise says. “So all this does is just say you will now do your community service instead of making a contribution.” 

Senator Nancy Boettger, a Republican from Harlan, says allowing criminals to write a check so they avoid community service reminds her of the worst side of machine-style politics.

“I grew up in Chicago where there was an opportunity all the time to donate to the policeman’s ball or some other form of a ‘non-profit’ sort of organization,” Boettger says. “And this (bill) really gets to the heart of cleaning that up.” 

The bill passed the Senate on a 48-0 vote and now goes to the House for consideration.