Lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that seeks to increase penalties for kidnapping cases involving minors after hearing from the mother of Kathlynn Shepard, who was abducted and killed last spring.
A subcommittee and then the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill, which will now be debated on the Senate floor.
In urging passage of the bill, Denise Shepard told subcommittee members the story of her daughter's killing last May. She said legislation to keep kidnapping offenders in jail longer would save children's lives.
"Think of how many children we can save by keeping one person in jail longer," Shepard said. "It could be your child."
The bill would increase criminal penalties in cases involving children 16 and younger and cases in which the person convicted had previously been convicted of kidnapping.
Kathlynn was 15 when she and a 12-year-old friend were kidnapped by Michael Klunder while walking home from school in Dayton.
The 12-year-old escaped but authorities said Klunder killed Kathlynn and later committed suicide.
Klunder had been released from prison in 2011 after serving 20 years for two previous kidnapping convictions. Though he was sentenced to 41 years in prison, his term was cut short for good behavior under Iowa law, which gives inmates 1.2 days of credit for every day served.
Shepard said she feels that if Klunder had served his complete term, her daughter would be alive.
"Reading an autopsy report of the things he did to her killed me," Shepard said. "We need the help of the government to keep these people in prison."
Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said the legislation is a direct response to Kathlynn's killing. Under the bill, Klunder would have been in prison longer because of his previous offenses.
"We can't bring her daughter back, but hopefully something good will come out of it," Hogg said. "I'd like to be able to say we'd be able to keep all children safe, but hopefully we can make it less likely that it would happen again."
Similar legislation being considered in the House would increase criminal penalties in cases involving children 15 and younger. It would also eliminate the option to reduce prison sentences based on good behavior for kidnapping and several other crimes when children are involved.