By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES, Iowa — Kayden’s Law seemed like a “no-brainer” when it was passed in 2012.
Named for a 7-year-old girl who was killed in 2011 by a speeding motorist, the law imposed mandatory penalties for anyone not stopping at least 150 feet from a school bus when the bus’ red lights are flashing and its stop sign extended.
But the problem with “no-brainer” laws is legislators usually don’t think about all the consequences of their actions.
Paul Brennan: Good intentions often make bad laws.
“What we’re frequently seeing is cases where the facts don’t justify the severity of the penalties,” Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf told Iowa Watchdog.
First time offenders face fines of $250 to $675 and a mandatory 30-day suspension of their driver’s license.
“The suspension of the license is a real burden on people. It’s justified in cases where you have drivers who are endangering children getting off a school bus, but not when someone has just technically violated the law,” Wolf said.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL: A school bus safety law passed in 2012 doesn’t allow county attorneys and judges to distinguish between dangerous behavior and simple mistakes.
“For example, someone in a parking lot, trying to maneuver away from a bus, is treated the same as someone speeding past a bus when children are exiting it. The police, the county attorneys and judges don’t have discretion because the law takes a one-size-fits-all approach,” Wolf explained.
School bus drivers are the only ones allowed to exercise discretion under Kayden’s Law, as it’s up to them to decide whether a motorist’s actions violate the law.
If a driver believes a violation has occurred, he submits a description of the car and its license plate number to local police.
The police are required to issue a citation. The county or city attorney must prosecute the violation as a simple misdemeanor for a first offense and a serious misdemeanor for subsequent violations. Judges must impose the mandated penalties.
Since it took effect in August 2012, 1041 Iowans have been convicted of violating Kayden’s Law and had their driver’s licenses suspended.
County attorneys and judges across the state have objected to the law’s failure to allow them to distinguish between truly dangerous behavior and simple technical violations.
Wolf has been working with his state representative to have the law amended.
During the last legislative session, Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, introduced a bill that would allow judges to impose a year’s probation on first-time offenders and require them to attend safe driving classes instead of suspending the offender’s driver’s license.
The bill failed.
Wolf wasn’t surprised.
“No one wants to put himself in a situation where he can be accused of not wanting to protect children,” Wolf said. “But amending the law to allow some discretion isn’t about weakening protection for children. It’s about making sure the penalty is proportional to the facts of the case.”
Contact Paul Brennan at email@example.com