Grassley: House policing bill may not be ‘fast-tracked’ for passage

By: - April 15, 2021 6:16 pm

The Iowa Statehouse. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The major policing bill lawmakers advanced this week might not be “fast-tracked” to the governor’s desk, House Speaker Pat Grassley said Thursday.

“This bill is not necessarily in its final form at this point,” Grassley said. “I won’t speak for the Senate, but I know that they still have to work through that.” 

The legislative session is scheduled to end by April 30, although lawmakers can work past that date.

Democrats have raised a legal question of whether a correctional impact statement would be needed for the bill to pass. Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, argued on the House floor that, because the bill introduces new offenses, it requires a correctional impact statement, including analysis of how the legislation would impact minorities in Iowa.

Grassley declined to comment Thursday on whether a statement was legally necessary to debate the bills, but he said that the bill might take some time to progress in the Senate.

The 33-page bill is an amended version of a much shorter Senate proposal, Senate File 342. House Republicans added provisions to increase penalties for protest-related crimes and to give police officers qualified immunity and additional benefits. The bill passed the House 63-30, with the support of several Democrats.

“These bills and amendments have been floating around for several weeks now, and we felt that we reached a point at which it was time to take action,” Grassley said.

Opponents of the bill noted that the legislation does not include a racial profiling ban or data collection requested by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, told reporters Thursday that legislative Republicans had “squandered this opportunity” to make public safety reforms.

Grassley said in a separate news conference that not every bill makes it through the House in its first year. He noted that some Republicans had concerns with “significant data collection of their personal information” that would be required to track police racial profiling in Iowa.

“I think we took tremendous steps when we were able to come together and work on some things last year … We’ve had other bills that we just couldn’t get through the committee process that we’ve been trying to work on,” he said.

Critics of the legislation also had concerns over the bill’s changes to some protest-related crimes like unlawful assembly, rioting or criminal mischief. Pete McRoberts, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said the sentence enhancements were troubling, especially “given the disparity in prosecutions and imprisonments.”

“We feel that this … can trap someone into violating the law when they don’t intend to,” he said. “We feel that the expansion of police powers is reactive and that there is no public safety reason for it.”

McRoberts also criticized the introduction of qualified immunity for police officers. If passed, individuals suing police officers would need to prove that the officer violated their rights and broke a law that was “clearly established.”

“There’s no other defendant who would have that type of defense,” he said. “It’s a high standard, and I just frankly believe it will be very hard for a person to meet that standard.”

McRoberts urged lawmakers to use the final weeks of session to pass legislation focused on criminal or racial justice issues. He pointed toward last summer’s bipartisan bill to ban chokeholds and revoke certifications for officers fired due to misconduct.

“They still have time,” he said. “They have shown us that when they want to make a quick decision, they can do it.”

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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.