Police funding bill has uncertain future after Senate passage

By: - March 11, 2021 3:44 pm

(Photo via Commonwealth of Massachusetts)

House leaders were hesitant Thursday about a Senate policing bill that would deny state funds to any local governments that decreased their police budgets.

The Senate passed Senate File 479 on Wednesday, aimed at discouraging communities from answering a call by some racial justice advocates to “defund the police.” The bill defines four specific situations in which a local police department could decrease its budget. Any other police department cuts could result in a loss of state funds for that city or country. The bill passed 41-7, with 10 Democrats voting in favor.

But House leaders on Thursday were not predicting the current bill would be successful in their chamber. House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said his caucus wanted to be sure there were no “unintended consequences” of the legislation.

“We’re going to want to work with local law enforcement,” Grassley said in a Thursday call with reporters. “We don’t want to impact our small communities or communities that may increase their budget, and then just naturally have to reduce it because of the revenue.”

House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, said he did not anticipate considering the bill at all.

“I am told, with my Republican colleagues, that we’re not going to take up this legislation,” Prichard told reporters. “Let’s face it, this bill is political theater, it’s not real policy.”

Prichard and other Democratic leaders on a Thursday call said they were unaware of any towns that would be affected by the legislation, if passed.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said the bill was “an attempt by Senate Republicans to play political games and force folks to take a political vote on a bill that is not going to affect a single community in the state of Iowa.” He voted against the bill.

Wahls said all Democrats supported police departments, but their opposition to the bill came from a concern that cities would be unable to adjust their police budgets to match their revenue, especially if a proposed traffic camera ban were passed into law. 

“We had some folks who obviously had concerns in terms of the potential for Republicans to run ads and try to basically turn that upside-down,” Wahls said.

The police funding bill is one of several criminal justice proposals advancing through the Legislature. It is taken from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ “Back the Blue Act,” a wide-ranging proposal that would have introduced a racial profiling ban in addition to several measures to protect police officers from harassment and leverage new penalties for protest-related crimes. The initial proposal was unpopular across the board, with both social justice and policing groups opposed

The Legislature split that proposal into several bills. Neither chamber has passed the racial profiling ban out of committee. 

“This isn’t necessarily a divisive issue,” Prichard said, expressing support for the racial profiling ban. “It doesn’t have to be made a political issue.”

— Kathie Obradovich contributed to this report.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.