DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a number of bills on Friday, enacting into law significant policy changes for the state including a bill that legalizes the use of cannabis oil to treat severe epilepsy. Another bill lessens the penalties for people who unknowingly expose someone to HIV.
Dozens of mothers and their children with epilepsy gathered for the cannabis oil bill signing.
"This bill received tremendous support and truly shows the power of people talking to their legislators and their governor about important issues to them and their families and their children," he said.
The mothers lobbied frequently and convinced Branstad to call governors of Utah and Alabama, conservative states where similar bills had passed. The women gradually changed the minds of legislators who had concerns legalization of any form of marijuana would send the wrong message.
The law, which takes effect July 1, narrowly allows the use of oil derived from the cannabis plant if it's prescribed by an Iowa neurologist for a form of epilepsy. The families must buy it in other states where it can be legally produced.
"I guess we'll see how it works but it gives some hope to some families that were very concerned," Branstad told reporters after he signed the bill. "You have to have empathy for these families. A lot of credit goes to the mothers that worked so hard ... and convinced us all this is something they should have an opportunity to do in the state of Iowa."
The HIV law, also the result of heavy lobbying, changes a current law that says if someone exposes a partner to HIV without their consent, they can be convicted of a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
The new law creates more general rules about infectious diseases, making people eligible for 25 year sentences only if they intend to transmit a disease without someone's knowledge.
Nick Rhoades, of Plainfield, who was convicted under the Iowa law in 2008 and initially sentenced to 25 years in prison and lifetime sex offender registration, greeted the news with relief.
"It has been five years of work by advocates and public health, but it was worth the effort," he said in a statement.
Rhoades was released from prison after serving 18 months.
The new law includes a clause that will retroactively remove Rhoades and others convicted under the previous statute from required sex offender registration.
Tami Haught, a community organizer for an advocacy group focused on the issue, said HIV positive individuals did not believe they could get a fair trial in Iowa.
"We're hoping this will remove the stigma," she said. "It's a much better public health policy that will encourage testing and treatment rather than discouraging it."
Branstad also signed a tax credit bill that extends the deadline for wind energy projects and a solar bill that increases the annual tax credits available for installing solar energy systems to $4.5 million from the current $1.5 million.
Friday night, Branstad announced he had signed several other bills, including one that would end greyhound dog racing in Council Bluffs by 2016 but let dog breeders run a track in Dubuque without a casino subsidy. The governor had declined to say earlier in the day whether he would sign the dog racing bill.