The Iowa Senate has passed a bill that would make some counseling sessions between “first responders” and a peer confidential. Senator Kevin Kinney, a Democrat from Oxford, was an investigator for the Johnson County Sheriff’s department until his recent retirement.

“Because of the nature of their jobs, there are times with law enforcement officers, first responders and others need to seek counseling from peer counselors in order to process and cope with things they have encountered,” Kinney said yesterday during remarks on the floor of the Iowa Senate.

Kinney told his senate colleagues a peer counselor helped him during the investigation of nine-year-old Jetseta Gage’s murder in 2005.

“I was on the crime scene for approximately 20 hours before I was able to go home to rest. I feel asleep for about 45 minutes and I later woke up in a sweat. I was having a nightmare. I saw my daughter, who was 12 at that time, in the garment bag that this nine-year-old girl was killed in,” Kinney said. “I then got up and worked for approximately two more days without any sleep.”

Gage’s body had been found stuffed inside a cabinet inside a mobile home in rural Johnson County. She’d been suffocated with a plastic garment bag. Kinney’s supervisor stepped in that at point and told Kinney to talk with a peer counselor.

“That is what helped me get through this horrific incident,” Kinney said. “Senate File 267 ensures that these communications between officers and peer support group counselors are privileged and that the counselors cannot be compelled to give testimony disclosing the communications.”

Conversations between husbands and wives, doctors and their patients, a member of the clergy and a church member, and lawyers and their clients are considered “privileged communication.” It means a spouse, a pastor, a doctor or a lawyer cannot be compelled to testify in court about certain conversations. This bill would offer the same kind of confidentiality to some of the peer-to-peer conversations between first responders.

The bill cleared the Senate on a 49-0 vote. It must pass the Iowa House and get the governor’s signature before the policy becomes law. The bill passed the Senate on a 49-to-zero vote. It now goes to the House for consideration.