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Miller Proposes Criminal Laws for 2002

DES MOINES. Attorney General Tom Miller on Thursday announced a series of proposed changes in Iowa criminal laws he is submitting to the Iowa Legislature, which convenes next week. Miller submits proposals every year to modernize and improve the Iowa Criminal Code. (Full description of all the proposals in PDF format.)

Summary - Miller's proposals would:

Strengthen Iowa's money-laundering law.

We have had a strong law against money-laundering for several years, but we need to close an important gap by establishing regulation of money transmitter businesses such as check cashers, check sellers and wire transfer firms," Miller said. Money laundering is how meth-trafficking networks and other criminal organizations convert illegal monies into apparently clean assets in order to conceal and expand illegal activity.

Miller is asking the Legislature to give the State Superintendent of Banking regulatory authority over money transmitter businesses, or MTBs. "MTBs now are required to report cash transactions of $10,000 or more to the IRS, but multiple cash transactions of smaller amounts are not monitored, and that makes MTBs susceptible to money laundering by drug dealers and other criminals," he said. "MTBs now handle large amounts of cash in Iowa with little oversight."

Under Miller's proposal the Banking Superintendent would license and regulate MTBs, conduct a criminal background check of all applicants, and have authority to require and inspect records of all cash transactions by MTBs. MTBs would pay a fee to finance the regulatory work. The Banking Superintendent would report possible criminal activity to the State Department of Public Safety for further investigation.

"There has been a huge growth nationwide in money transmitter businesses, and we believe some of them in Iowa may be susceptible to illegal enterprises," Miller said. "This measure will help us track down those who use MTBs for money-laundering and help us eliminate the financial base for criminal enterprises. In addition, legitimate MTBs would gain an opportunity to grow."

Miller also said the US Department of Justice has awarded a grant of $269,000 to create the Iowa Financial Crimes Task Force to tackle money laundering and other financial crimes. The grant will support analysis and investigation by the Iowa Dept. of Public Safety and prosecution led by the Attorney General. Public Safety and the Attorney General also organize training and cooperative efforts with local, state, and federal officials to thwart money-laundering and other financial crimes.

Revise Iowa's "Sexually Violent Predator Act."

The law, which was enacted in 1998, created a civil commitment procedure for persons who are deemed to be "sexually violent predators" as defined by the law and determined in a formal court process. The law was created to address the threat of re-offending by certain violent sex offenders.

So far, 26 patients have been admitted to the program, which is operated by the Iowa Dept. of Human Services at the Oakdale campus near Iowa City. Miller proposed several revisions to the Act consistent with recent case decisions by the Iowa Courts and U.S. Supreme Court, including streamlining processes and specifying how a transitional release program would work as persons prepare to leave the program.

Improve Iowa's Computer-Crime law.

"Our computer-crime law is behind the times," Miller said, "especially in the wake of September 11 if we contemplate the possibility of terrorist attacks on computer systems that support things like communications, electric grids, water distribution systems, or government records." Miller is asking the Legislature to enhance the potential offenses, and to extend application of the statute to intangible property including software and data storage. (Now, the applicable offense is a simple misdemeanor for criminal mischief, and only damage to tangible property may be prosecuted in the case of unauthorized computer access.)

Expand the scope of domestic abuse to include persons in dating or intimate relationships.

"We proposed this last year and it passed the Senate by 49-0," Miller said. "I hope the House passes it and makes it the law of Iowa." Miller said expanding the coverage of the domestic abuse law is crucial because the law enables victims to obtain protection such as no-contact orders from a court, and it empowers courts to order perpetrators to obtain abuse counseling and education. Iowa law now extends such protections only to persons who are married, have a child in common, or were cohabiting within one year of a violent incident.

"The US Justice Department reports that 40% of domestic violence incidents involve non-married persons," Miller said. "The highest rate of all is for young persons age 16-24. We need to extend our law's protection to these people, and that will also help us avoid future violence as they enter marriages and long-term relationships."

Increase certain compensation benefits that can be paid to victims of violent crime.

Iowa law authorizes the State's "Crime Victim Compensation Program" to provide specified financial benefits to help victims recover from the financial costs of violent crime. The program is funded entirely by fines and penalties paid by criminals. "Victim compensation will never erase the emotional trauma of violent crime, but it helps people recover some of the financial costs," Miller said. Miller asked the Legislature to raise allowable compensation limits in several areas, including for medical care, counseling, loss of financial support by dependents of murder victims, and reimbursement for clothing held as evidence.

Miller presented proposals in several other areas of criminal law and juvenile justice, such as improving the child endangerment law and creating county-attorney-led "child protection assistance teams" to coordinate investigation and prosecution of serious child abuse cases. He reiterated his support for establishing .08 as the applicable blood/alcohol content limit determining drunk driving.

Miller also underscored his continuing support for substance abuse treatment and drug courts. "We need to maintain those programs and expand them whenever we can, even in this difficult financial climate. This is a fundamental public safety issue," Miller said.

"Substance abuse is closely connected to so many of our crime problems, and tackling it will help us solve many of those problems," he said. "There is no doubt that substance abuse treatment and prevention works in many cases and is cost-effective. Crime goes down when substance abuse goes down - and so do the enormous costs for law enforcement and corrections. Whenever it is fiscally possible, we need to bolster our substance abuse treatment and prevention programs and drug courts."