Iowa Senate president rules police ‘de-escalation’ training measure out of order

A group of people carrying signs with messages such as "Black Lives Matter" approach the Des Moines Police Department. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa Sen. Zach Wahls’ attempt to get the Iowa Senate to require standard “de-escalation” training of Iowa police officers was ruled out of order by Senate President Charles Schneider on Wednesday night.  

Wahls, D-Coralville, proposed an amendment to a firearms possession and transportation bill that would have required all officers to receive “training on de-escalation techniques, pre-escalation recognition of potential resistance and response options not involving the use of force, decision-making skills regarding the use of force, management of stress in threatening situations, tactical disengagement, and sanctity and preservation of life, with the required amount of training less than the amount of training provided relating to the use of firearms.”

Sen. Zach Wahls is a Democrat from Coralville. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Senate)

Wahls said he had attended several protests in Iowa City and Coralville this week. The protests were sparked by the death in Minneapolis of unarmed black man George Floyd after white police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for close to 9 minutes. 

“What I heard was incredibly disturbing,” Wahls said. “Have you ever feared being on the receiving end of such treatment by the police? I certainly never have.” 

Wahls listed about a dozen black people who had been killed by white officers around the country in recent decades. He also listed states that have banned police from using choke holds, increased de-escalation training and took other actions to prevent cases such as Floyd’s. 

Chauvin, who was originally charged with third-degree murder, on Wednesday was charged with second-degree murder. The three police officers who were fired along with Chauvin now face charges of aiding and abetting murder. 

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, asked Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, if Wahls’ amendment was in order and germane to the bill under discussion. Schneider ruled the amendment out of order because it was all new language under a different title on a different topic.

Democrats lined up to demand action on racial inequities.

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, encouraged senators to attend her post-session meetings to discuss the issues, or hold their own. “The silence and indifference of white people in power are disproportionately killing black people,” Celsi said on the Senate floor. 

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, said the “the procedural indifference” to Wahls’ proposal, as protests continued, is “troubling.”

“The indifference is suffocating us,” Boulton added.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen is a Des Moines Democrat.

Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said, “They are asking for more than respect. They are asking for changes. We can get it done.”

Petersen noted that bills addressing racial profiling and other related issues have failed to move “in four years.”

Petersen asked Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, what he would be willing to support on racial justice. “I am happy to take a look at any specific proposals” from senators, Whitver said.

Whitver said a bill addressing former felons’ voting rights is still alive.

Petersen said she would ask to meet with Whitver on Thursday.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said the House was expected to vote Wednesday night on felon voting, and he still wants to move that bill this session.

Zaun, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,  said he wants to schedule a Drake neighborhood meeting, without cameras, to discuss racial issues. “People want to be heard. They are frustrated,” Zaun said. “I am not interested in political hits. I am interested in solutions.”

Zaun added that Democrats failed to address the same issues when they controlled the Legislature.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, praised police and especially Iowa State Patrol Randy Kunert for the handling of the most recent protests. “Major Kunert did the most honorable thing he could have done. They told (the protesters) he was laying down his gun and taking off his shield and coming down to talk. “Those things go a long ways with people — respect and empathy,” Bisignano said. 

“I hope we can pass something to tell (protesters) we understand,” Bisignano said. “They’ve been up on our lawn every day. Let’s give them something.”