When Ruth Lapointe of Mason City, Iowa started her clerkship in the Iowa House for Rep. Chris Hall this legislative session she never imagined she would be fighting for a bill surrounding an issue so close to home.
The bill, House File 3 (HF3), was proposed to improve the invasion of privacy law by reducing the burden of proof for victims of peeping Toms, and increasing penalties of certain invasion of privacy cases. Lapointe discovered the bill while reading the news one morning.
The original bill, Senate File 15 (SF15), was introduced by Sen. Amy Sinclair. This version removed the requirement that a perpetrator has to be aroused by the crime they commit and the victim must be partially nude.
“I was interested in her bill because, as a victim of this crime, it was difficult to prove my perpetrators guilt because me and the other victims could not prove he was aroused by spying on us,” Lapointe said. “The language in Sinclair’s bill was eventually added to HF3, a bill proposed by Rep. Megan Jones, which also related to Invasion of Privacy.”
“I had heard that the House version of the bill stood the best chance of passage and I began to take ownership for the bill’s progress, trying any way I could to move it forward,” she said. Lapointe hoped the House bill would be a way to help victims of invasion of privacy issues.
“The bill is responding to a flaw in the law,” Lapointe said. “The flaw is that it doesn’t adequately protect our privacy. People are shocked to hear that. It’s horrifying enough to have your privacy invaded, but to find out that you can’t put your perpetrator to justice because the law isn’t adequate is a burden no victim should have to bear.”
Lapointe had to learn quickly about how the legislative process works once she decided to get behind HF3.
“I had to ask questions all along the way to figure out what my best course of action would be at any point in the process,” she said. “I’ve learned it can be a real puzzle trying to advance legislation. I understand how this completely disempowers average citizens to get involved.”
But getting involved is what politics needs, especially from younger people. Rep. Mary Wolfe of Clinton County weighed in on why it is so important for young people to learn about the legislative process.
“In the past three months Ruth has learned a lot more about how a bill becomes a law (or doesn’t) than most Iowans will ever know,” Wolfe said. “Knowledge is power, and this is particularly true in politics. Even if Ruth walks away from all things political at the end of this legislative term, the knowledge and skills she’ll have gained will no doubt prove useful in all sorts of circumstances going forward.”
Lapointe encourages other young people to be involved in the legislative process, saying there are so few young people in the legislature that the perspective of the younger generation can be forgotten.
“The only way young people can remedy the disconnect is to reach out to their legislators about their concerns. They will be surprised to find how well their voices will be received,” she said.
At this point in the 2015 session, advancement of HF3 has been stalled.
“Though the bill might be dead, I am confident I took it as far as it was going to get this session and will be happy to work on the issue again next January,” Lapointe said. “It has been very rewarding and am grateful for the compassion and responsiveness of people around me. I am happy to see one person can make a difference and I am now empowered to fight for change in other areas.”
Lapointe realized quickly that the legislative process is complicated with very few bills actually becoming law in one session, and bills that do get passed have often been proposed for many years in a row.
“The political climate has to be right for a bill to pass. Party drama plays a big part in this. The less power divided the legislature is, more things can get done,” she said. “I think people should be watching their local legislators a little more closely and holding them accountable for their actions, while also maintaining open communication.”
HF3 came to a hault in the final bill funnel. The funnel process is when bills have to make it through their respective committees in order to make it to the floor for debate or vote.
“The funnel process is a necessary evil in the Iowa Legislature,” Lapointe said. “Funnel weeks are dramatic because priorities have to narrow. It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that if I couldn’t change one person’s mind, then my efforts would come to an end.” Occasionally, bills don’t pass one year, but are successful the next.
“Sometimes it just takes a few years for both chambers to get their act together/come to a meeting of the minds on a specific issue,” Wolfe said. “Maybe Sen. Kinney, who chaired the Senate subcommittee on this bill, will get together with the relevant House members over the interim and they’ll agree to file companion bills on this issue in both the Senate and House first thing next session, which will make it much more likely the bills will make it through the system in a timely manner.”
HF3 is a bill close to Lapointe’s heart. She fought for the bill every day to increase awareness of the issue so victims feel comfortable coming forward. Recognition of the bill will help it advance further next January. Lapointe hopes to see a new and improved version of this bill introduced next session and plans to advocate for its passage.
“I’ve fought for this because I want the public to know about this crime. I think cases of invasion of privacy are hard to identify and may often go unnoticed,” Lapointe said. “I am hoping that the more stories that are out there about this bill and this crime, the easier it will be for people to identify and report incidents of it.”
By Tessa Lengeling