The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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June 30, 2012

New laws to hit books

CLINTON — Several new Iowa laws and penalties go into effect Sunday. Among them is a law that exempts landlords from liens based on tenants unpaid utility bills.

“This is in no way a positive thing for the city of Clinton,” Clinton Finance Director Jessica Kinser said to the Rules and Regulations committee earlier this month.

Currently the city can roll the unpaid sewer utility bills into the landlord’s property taxes to ensure payment at some point.  

However, under the new law, unpaid bills will be sent to a collection agency.  The city currently collects 16 percent of the ambulance debt it bills through a collection agency. Because Clinton does not own its own water, shutting off service is not an option.

“If the form is complete and everything is done and I leave a bill of $500 with the city, the city’s out, send it to collections...That’s the reality of this,” Kinser said.

To be exempt, landlords will be required to complete the utility lien exemption form drafted by the city, stay registered with the Building and Neighborhood Services Department as a rental property and inform the city in writing within 30 days that a tenant has vacated as well as any changes in ownership. If the landlord does not follow these guidelines, he or she will not be exempt from having a lien placed on the property.

While the exact financial impact has yet to be determined, there are more than 1,400 rental units in Clinton.

The Rules and Regulations committee next week, on the recommendation of the Internal Operations committee, will discuss a red-flag policy that would enable safeguards so the city could collect social security numbers from renters.  With the social security numbers, the city would be able to collect payment through the Iowa income offset program. The city cannot collect unpaid bills through the program without a social security number.  

“We cannot deny service to anybody for unpaid debt. It’s always going to be sort of the bane of our existence as a sewer utility only,” Kinser said.

Some other new laws and fines include:

• House File 2228 — The 2009 “move over” law requires drivers to move over or slow down when approaching a stopped emergency, tow or maintenance vehicle with flashing lights.  Drivers must also yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens on. Penalties for violations of the law will increase.

The increased penalties include mandatory license suspension when a driver is convicted of a violation of the law that results in damage to property, injury or death as well as higher fines. Those convicted of a violation resulting in damage to property will face a 90-day license suspension.  An injury-causing violation will result in license suspension for 180 days and a $500 fine while a death-causing violation will carry a year-long license suspension and a $1,000 fine.

• Senate File 2218 — Known as “Kadyn’s Law” for a 7-year-old girl who was killed last year by a driver who was illegally passing a stopped school bus.

The law increases the penalty for those who pass a school bus with an extended stop sign with flashing lights from $200 to a range of $250 to $675 with 30 days in jail for the first offense.

Following violations could result in fines up to $1,875. If a driver causes injury, he or she could face additional fines, jail time or a suspended license.  

•House File 2403 — The law authorizes the Iowa DOT to waive the driving skills test for a commercial driving license for active duty military or has separated from service within 90 days as long as the person meets certain requirements.

Those military personnel seeking a CDL cannot have more than one conviction of an offense committed while operating any type of motor vehicle that is listed as a serious traffic violation and cannot have had any driver’s license suspended, revoked, or canceled, as well as other stipulations.

• Snowmobile and hunting fees — Those using public land or private snowmobile trails will now have to purchase a $15 permit.

The fee will go toward maintaining the trails. Iowans also will now be able to buy a three-year hunting permit as well as a permit to use a third line when fishing. Each license sold is matched by federal funds for habitat management.

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