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Editorial: Pending sex-offender bill a sensible solution

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa Legislature is considering a bill that would require nursing-home staff to inform resident applicants and their families of any sex offenders living in the facility. It would also create facilities in the short-term to house sex offenders who were recently released from prison while a commission advises the Legislature on potential long-term solutions.

This comes after a convicted sex offender was released from prison and ordered by the court to stay at a nursing home. He/she later committed sexual assault on one of the other patients.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board strongly encourages the Legislature to approve this bill.

At first, it seems like this may be an invasion of privacy for sex offenders. However, in light of the online Iowa Sex Offender Registry, which includes a map of where every registered sex offender in the state lives, her or his pictures, names, addresses, and even more information, this bill isn’t particularly invasive.

Terry Cowman, an Iowa Department of Corrections special agent in charge of the Sex Offender Registry, said in an interview with The Daily Iowan there were 5,821 registered sex offenders in Iowa at the end of January.

House File 53, the pending bill, could choose to use a state or private facility to house sex offenders, who need special care, like elderly, after their stay in prison, said the Department of Human Services.
“The Department of Human Services may use a state facility to provide care for such persons or may conduct a request for proposal process to contract with a private facility to care for such persons,” House File 53 states.

University of Iowa Law Professor Josephine Gittler said the measures proposed in the Legislature are similar to what neighboring states are considering. The priority, she said, should be to protect nursing-home residents, and the bill accomplishes that.

“This bill is a sensible and reasonable approach to the problem posed by the placement of persons with a history of sex offenses in nursing facilities,” Gittler said.

It’s also important to consider whose rights take priority in this case. Is it more essential that we protect the privacy of convicted criminals or the safety of primarily elderly patients?

Residents are living in nursing facilities for a reason: They’re vulnerable. Most of them aren’t in positions to defend themselves from sexual assault. Some can’t speak, lack control of their bodily functions, and suffer from countless other dysfunctions. It is simply inhumane to put some of society’s most vulnerable residents at risk even if the rate at which this reportedly occurs is quite low. Our society wouldn’t dare place infants in such a position, so it follows that nursing-home residents, some of whom are just as defenseless, must not be left unprotected.

One of the bill’s supporters, Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, said that although patients are rarely victims of sexual assault in nursing homes, “even if it happens once more and the state doesn’t do anything to stop it, the state is culpable.”

Andy Maas, an administrator at Briarwood Health Care Center, 605 Greenwood Drive, agreed that a solution is necessary. He said his facility and virtually all others with which he is familiar wouldn’t risk accepting sex offenders under almost any circumstances. Maas said he supported keeping sex offenders in separate facilities, which the pending legislation proposes, as the best solution.

These measures aren’t just for the sake of protecting noncriminal residents from potential sexual abuse. They’re also necessary to care for sex offenders who may not be able to gain admission into a standard nursing home.

The moral and legal circumstances make the decision absolutely clear. It is imperative that the Legislature pass this bill for the safety of Iowa residents housed in long-term health-care facilities.


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