DES MOINES — A subcommittee in the Iowa Senate has advanced a bill that would toughen penalties for convicted felons caught with a gun. The bill easily cleared the House last Tuesday on an 88-to-six vote.

Tony Phillips, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association, said the bill would be a useful tool for county law enforcement agencies. “You end up dealing with the same types of these people over and over and you have a hard time getting the correct punishment to get them off the streets,” Phillips said during a Senate subcommittee hearing today. “It’s really more about making sure the good guys out there are unaffected, but you have tools to go after some of the more serious crime and repeat crime in the state.”

The bill calls for a mandatory two year sentence in state prison for a felon caught for the first time with a gun. A felon convicted a fourth time for illegally possessing a gun would have to serve at least a decade in state prison. For the past few years, federal prosecutors have been focusing on cases involving felons with serious criminal records who’d been caught with a firearm during an arrest. Senator Jeff Reichman, a Republican from Montrose, said relying on federal prosecution has become a concern because there’s a backlog of these cases in the federal system.

“This (bill) is against the bad actors and keeps them off the street and overall reduces crime,” Reichman said.

A Legislative Services Agency analysis indicates the state will spend at least $2.8 million more each year if the bill becomes law. That’s because about 30% of people with felonies who are convicted in state court of having a gun are being sent to state prison today. Most are placed in the community based system that’s an alternative to jails and prison.