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Iowa Governor Signs Funeral Bill

April 18, 2006

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Gov. Tom Vilsack signed a bill Monday that will force an anti-gay Kansas church to keep its distance at an upcoming funeral of an Iowa National Guardsman.

The governor enacted the law one day before the Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket at the funeral of Sgt. Daniel Sesker, 22, who was killed this month in Iraq.

The group from Topeka, Kan., and other protesters now must stay at least 500 feet away from any funeral or ceremony at a cemetery.

``I have spoken to the Iowa families of fallen soldiers and have become intimately aware of the heartbreak they endure,″ Vilsack said in a statement Monday while on a visit to the Middle East.

The bill makes a first offense a simple misdemeanor, punishable with no more than 30 days in jail and up to $500 in fines. A third offense or more is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and fines up to $7,500.

The church group, which claims that God is killing U.S. soldiers who fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality, has prompted at least two dozen states to consider laws that would keep protesters away from military funerals.

The church issued a statement Monday critical of the Legislature for passing the law, saying protesters also planned to picket the ``ignominious, Bible-dumb, pandering demagogic Iowa Legislature.″

A spokeswoman for the group told The Des Moines Register that the law will not keep its members from coming to Iowa, but they will honor the distance requirement.

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