Mar 20, 7:32 PM EDT

Iowa House OKs bill shortening time for discrimination suits



DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The Iowa House passed legislation Monday that would shorten the deadline for filing discrimination lawsuits in the state from two years to 90 days.

The Republican-controlled chamber voted 58-39 to pass the bill. It now heads to the GOP-majority Senate.

Under current Iowa law, people have two years to file lawsuits in district court after their discrimination claims are investigated by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which oversees such complaints. The proposed 90-day change aligns with federal guidelines.

Kristin Johnson, the ICRC executive director, said the bill will likely not change the number of lawsuits within the state, but could add pressure on complainants who would have to meet a quicker filing deadline.

Daniel Zeno, a legislative liaison for the American Civil Liberties of Iowa, which is registered against the bill, said that will ultimately hurt low-income people who cannot immediately find a lawyer to take their case.

"Their chances of finding a lawyer - and they may have a fantastic case - but their chances of finding a lawyer in that 90-day period as opposed to two years, becomes harder," he said. "It's going to have a negative impact on people's ability to get access to justice."

Rep. Megan Jones, the measure's floor manager, said the policy change will preserve evidence for court cases and should not impact people's ability to find a lawyer.

"It's not hard to find a lawyer," the Sioux Rapids Republican said. "As an attorney myself, there are certain areas that may have trouble finding an attorney, but specifically when it comes to civil rights claims, I think there are plenty of people interested and involved and willing to take these cases on."

Doug Beech, the director of government relations for Casey's General Stores, said the shorter deadline will allow businesses to get rid of older records and ensure witness testimony remains accurate in discrimination cases.

Iowa Grocery Industry Association President Michelle Hurd agreed, saying an alignment with federal guidelines helps keep court evidence accurate.

"After two years, it becomes increasingly difficult for the parties to administer a case as witnesses have moved on, memories fade and evidence becomes stale," she said in a statement.

Keenan Crow, the deputy director of One Iowa, a LGBT advocacy group, disagreed, saying the narrowing timeline will make it challenging for victims of discrimination to prepare a thorough court case.

"It seems like an unrealistic timeline, from our perspective, that benefits respondents at the expense of claimants," Crow said. "We want to give folks the best possible opportunity to get justice."

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