Iowa bill would criminalize hidden compartments in vehicles

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/28/2014

Iowa lawmakers are expected to consider a bill that is intended to get tough with people who are believed to be involved in drug trafficking. Similar efforts are under consideration in at least three states.

Sen. Steven Sodders, D-State Center, introduced a bill that targets hidden compartments in vehicles, including large trucks and trailers.

The bill could impose severe consequences for the person behind the wheel, and the owner, of vehicles found to include hidden compartments, with or without drugs.

Supporters say the rule change is needed to fight back against drug traffickers. They say the drug trade is an ever-evolving criminal activity and offenders are resorting to sophisticated new ways of deceiving state and local authorities.

OOIDA officials say such hiding spots are not uncommon for over-the-road drivers. Truckers who travel for days at a time have few options to hide cash they carry as part of operating their business.

SF2036 would make it a felony for hidden compartments to be installed, created, built or fabricated in any vehicle after it leaves the factory. Offenders would face up to five years in prison and fines up to $7,500.

Sodders, a deputy sheriff in Marshall County, modeled his bill after a two-year old Ohio law. The Buckeye State included a provision in the law that is intended to protect law-abiding truckers and others. The rule applies an exemption to “a box, safe, container of other item” added to the vehicle to secure valuables or firearms.

The protection applies as long as drugs, or drug residue, are not present.

The Iowa bill also includes this protection. It awaits consideration in the Senate Transportation Subcommittee.

Despite assurances from officials that they are trying to protect law-abiding citizens, critics have raised concerns about the bill shifting the burden of proof entirely onto someone who modifies their vehicle.

Iowa is one of at least four states around the country where lawmakers are addressing the issue. Similar pursuits are underway in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

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