The Polk County Courthouse.

The Iowa Senate has passed a bill to clarify that county officials have control over local courthouses.

The bill is a response to the “break-ins” at courthouses in Polk and Dallas Counties that were conducted by a firm state court officials hired to assess security.

Senator Zach Whiting of Spirit Lake said there’s no way to “sugar coat” what happened.

“The Judicial Branch of our state government contracted with an out-of-state third-party entity to commit a crime, to break into county courthouses,” Whiting said. “If you think that’s bad…wait until you hear this: apparently these hired hands waited until 12:30 a.m. on September 11th to conduct one of these break-ins, or as they like to call it, a ‘physical penetration testing.'”

The two contractors triggered an alarm and were arrested inside the Dallas County Courthouse. Whiting said there was no coordination with local government.

“It’s stupid, it’s dangerous and it’s irresponsible,” Whiting said. “…Law enforcement was not notified beforehand and perhaps most troubling of all, the cavalier attitude with which these bandits acted towards local law enforcement after their arrest, even claiming they had a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card.”

The Senate’s Government Oversight Committee held a hearing last fall to examine the incidents. Whiting credited the late Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady for his remarks at the hearing about the break-ins.

“He did so with a sincere, apologetic and humble attitude because I think he fully understood the gravity of the situation,” Whiting said. “Police officers racing to the courthouse in the dark of night, not knowing who or what is inside the doors. Staff working late at night in the building could have been startled, injured, shot or even killed.”

The bill makes it clear that counties own all the county courthouses in the state and are responsible for security. It passed on a 45-1 vote.

The court had previously done security checks of court records, to ensure confidential information was protected and judicial branch officials say they did not expect the contractors to conduct “physical penetration” of courthouses outside of business hours.