Cities and counties voice opposition to Reynolds’ police-funding proposal

By: - February 22, 2021 6:15 pm

An Iowa man is appealing the suspension of his driver’s license, arguing that he was driving 103 mph in order to purchase feminine hygiene products for his wife. (Photo via Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

A key element of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ “Back the Blue” legislation ran into more opposition Monday, even as it advanced in the Iowa Senate.

Senate Study Bill 1203 stipulates that a city or county would be ineligible to “receive any state funds” if it reduces the budget of its law enforcement agency, unless that budget reduction is at least equal to an overall cut in spending, or unless the city or county “provides sufficient justification.”

Reynolds has said the bill is intended to support law enforcement at a time when some people are calling for defunding certain elements of police work.

The bill, part of a larger package of police-related legislation, advanced out of a Senate subcommittee Monday and will next be taken up by the Senate State Government Committee. To date, no lobbyists have registered in favor of the bill. Those opposed include the Iowa State Association of Counties, Iowa League of Cities and the ACLU of Iowa.

Robert Palmer of the Iowa League of Cities told the subcommittee that the organization opposes the bill because it represents an “unnecessary intrusion into local government decision-making.”

He said the issue isn’t one of public safety, but local control and the Legislature’s efforts to incentivize a certain minimum level of local spending.

“We would be here saying the exact same thing if this (bill) was telling us we had a required minimum amount of expenditure on parks, bike lanes, shooting ranges, you name it,” Palmer said. “We also have concerns this is bad fiscal policy. We often are talking to our members about how to find efficiencies and how to lower expenditures because it is our belief that that’s in the interest of the property-tax payer. This bill tells us not to necessarily look for those things.”

He said deciding how to spend property taxes is “one of the core functions” of local elected officials.

Larry Murphy representing the Urban County Coalition, an organization that is registered as “undecided” on the bill, spoke out against it at Monday’s subcommittee meeting.

“We also represent the police chiefs’ association,” Murphy said. “Our chiefs are monitoring (the bill) right now, but they have very serious concerns about the implications of this … I think this particular piece of legislation has serious constitutional problems. If you think about what you’re actually doing, you are delegating the rulemaking to the Iowa Department of Management to oversee cities and counties in terms of their expenditures in the public-safety area. If you think about the home-rule constitutional amendments that were passed not by the General Assembly, but by the people of Iowa in 1968 and 1978 —  in ’68 for the cities, in ’78 for the counties — they made it very clear in that amendment that the cities and counties are free to move ahead and make decisions without the state overruling them, unless the state specifically wrote legislation that was very exact about what they were not allowed to do.”

Murphy said there could also be unintended consequences to the bill.

“I don’t think you want, in two years, to have bumper stickers out there talking about how legislators require local government to increase or hold the line on property taxes as opposed to trying to reduce them,” he said.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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