Iowa Legislature passes ‘historic’ bipartisan bill reforming police conduct

By: - June 11, 2020 7:28 pm

Members of the Iowa Black Caucus celebrate approval of legislation addressing racial injustice by police. From left are Reps. Ruth Ann Gaines, Ross Wilburn, Ako Abdul-Samad, Ras Smith and Phyllis Thede. (Photo courtesy of Iowa House Democrats)

The Iowa Legislature unanimously passed what lawmakers called a “historic” bill that reforms law enforcement practices to better address police conduct and racial bias.

Republicans and Democrats from both the House and Senate passed the bills on Thursday after giving emotional testimonies. 

The bill was lawmakers’ response to protests in Iowa and across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota. It was championed by the Iowa Black Caucus and is based on Democrats’ proposed “More Perfect Union” plan that was presented last week.

There are four major parts of the bills:

  • Revoking law enforcement certifications for officers who were fired or resigned due to serious misconduct while working. It also prohibits officers from out-of-state who were charged with serious misconduct from receiving certification in Iowa.
  • Bans the use of chokeholds unless officers believe their lives are at risk.
  • Grants the Iowa Attorney General’s Office the power to investigate and prosecute an officer who committed a criminal offense that leads to someone’s death.
  • Requires all law enforcement agencies to provide annual implicit bias and de-escalation training.

“I’ve sat here year after year listening to debate at which I thought showed indifference to what my cause was,” said Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, who was first elected in 2010. “So today, I am jubilant. I am happy. I am surprised. And I’m really glad to be a part of it.”

In the Senate, Democrats said the bill is a “good start” to addressing racial disparities in Iowa. 

“We have a lot to do and so I challenge you that as we go forward and look at more policy … that we take into account those that have and those who have not,” said Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha.

Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, said the bill is significant not only for urban areas, but also rural Iowa. He pointed out that racial demographics are quickly changing in rural areas, particularly as the Latino and Hispanic populations grow.

“One of the most striking things I’ve seen as I go through my 16 parades in the summertime is the number of people who don’t look like me,” Shipley said. “It’s changing out there. It’s changing a lot.”

In the Iowa House, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, is the manager of the House bill.

He said the legislation was drafted in collaboration with the Iowa Black Caucus, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office and some House members.

He said it was easy to pass the bill because legislators and the governor’s office listened to each other.

Before the bill was introduced, Kaufmann said lawmakers held conversations with law enforcement. He said he is comfortable that “99%” of officers would be OK with the measure. Black Lives Matter protesters who have been at the capitol were not talked to, but he said Republicans relied on Reps. Ras Smith and Ako Abdul-Samad to advocate for them.

While some activists may not feel like the bill goes far enough, Kaufmann said it is a start.

“The bipartisan vote count will show you our unity and it’s a good start,” Kaufmann said.

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, one of the leaders behind the bill, said that while lawmakers were not able to compromise on other issues like racial profiling, he said in 10 days, the Legislature made significant steps in addressing “historic” injustices.

“The gains that we made today speak loudly,” Smith said.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, commended the protesters who have been on the streets in the Des Moines metro every night protesting for more racial equality after the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

“… I stood in a line and watched young people with tears coming down their face, because they were looking at us, and I saw the same tears that came down on my face when I was standing there protesting and we were trying to become the game changers, and no one listened to us,” Abdul-Samad said. “So I saw the tears. I saw the pain. I heard the hurt. But that’s what it took for us to move. But now that we have moved, let us keep moving. Let us not turn around.”

In the House and Senate galleries, Des Moines Black Lives Matter protesters watched the debate in silence, raising their fists up in support of the measures.

Gov. Kim Reynolds also made an extremely rare and surprise appearance and entered both chambers Thursday night to listen to legislators’ debate.

After the bills passed both chambers, she praised the effort in a statement:

“In Iowa, we know how to sit down at the table, listen to each other and work together to move forward. Over the past several days, leaders of the Iowa Legislature came together with shared goals and a commitment for action,” she said.

Reynolds praised the bipartisan effort and echoed lawmakers in characterizing the bill as a start.

“These problems didn’t arise overnight and they won’t be fixed in a day. We are just getting started, but our work together shows Iowa is willing to have the tough conversations and to look past our differences to find common ground and a brighter future for all Iowans,” Reynolds said.

If signed by Reynolds as expected, the bill will take effect July 1.

A breakdown of the bill

Attorney General investigations

The bill grants the Attorney General’s office the power to prosecute criminal offenses committed by law enforcement officers that resulted in someone’s death.

The AG’s office may assist a county attorney in their investigation or hold an independent investigation of their own.

If an officer’s actions do not rise to the level of a criminal charge, the AG’s office may refer a case to the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council for license revocation or suspension.


A chokehold is defined as the “intentional and prolonged application of force to the throat or windpipe that prevents or hinders breathing or reduces the intake of air,” according to the bill.

The bill states the use of a chokehold by an officer is only justifiable if an arrest is underway and the person under custody is using or threatening deadly force. Officers may also use a chokehold if they believe the person under custody would use deadly force unless apprehended any other way.

Officers using an invalid warrant would still be justified in using force, according to the bill.

Certification of officers accused of misconduct

Officers who are found to have committed “serious misconduct,” will have their license revoked by the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council. The bill requires law enforcement agencies to notify the council of the discharge of officers who were fired, voluntarily resigned or were laid off due to serious misconduct.

Officers from out-of-state will also be denied a preliminary application for law enforcement certification in Iowa if they were fired, voluntarily resigned or were laid off due to serious misconduct.

Serious misconduct includes felonies, evidence fabrication, repeated use of excessive force, acceptance of a bribe or commission of fraud, according to the bill.


Law enforcement agencies will be required to provide officers annual implicit bias and de-escalation training. The training guidelines will be created by the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, under consultation by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and other agencies. They will include training on creating “understanding and respect” for “diverse communities” and non-combative methods of interactions.

Training will also utilize an examination of “patterns, practices and protocols,” that result in biased law enforcement actions and how to mitigate them. It will also include history presentations and instruction from local groups to better understand the context of biased policing.

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