Iowa House sends policing bill to Gov. Reynolds’ desk

By: - May 19, 2021 12:10 am

Des Moines police line a guard rail blocking access to the front of the Des Moines Police Department after two nights of protests at the spot in May 2020. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Over four months after Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed a “Back the Blue” policing bill, lawmakers have passed their own version of the legislation. The bill creates new penalties for protest-related crimes and gives qualified immunity to police officers.

The House voted 56-35 to pass the bill on Tuesday evening, sending the legislation to Reynolds for approval.

“We’re going to make sure we’re protecting law enforcement, we’re protecting their families, we’re giving them tools they need to keep our communities safe,” Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said.

Democrats in both chambers objected to the bill, arguing that the increased penalties for some crimes would chill people from protesting and disproportionately affect Iowans of color.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said the bill would arbitrarily enhance penalties on people who “just want to be heard.”

“The passage of this bill sends a very clear message to these Iowans many of whom are young and smart and idealistic and just want to make the world a better place for all of us it sends a message that the Iowa Legislature would really prefer that they all just sit down and shut up, or else,” Wolfe said.

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, said the bill was especially disappointing nearly one year after legislators unanimously passed a bill to ban chokeholds and hold officers more accountable in cases of misconduct or violence.

“I had a lot of pride in those two weeks of sleepless nights … Today, we’ve abandoned that work,” Smith said. “We’ve betrayed the path that only three states in our nation started down last year.”

Klein responded that the bill did not undo last summer’s legislation: rather, he said it focused on a “different side” of the justice system.

“This was about protecting law enforcement, giving them the tools they need to keep our communities safe and showing them that we have their back,” Klein said.

What does the policing bill do?

  • Raises penalties for rioting and other protest-related crimes
  • Provides qualified immunity to protect officers against lawsuits in some cases
  • Adds active and retired law officers and prosecutors to a program that provides officers an alternative postal address for safety reasons
  • Adds qualified immunity language to several code sections
  • Amends “bill of rights” language for officers and other emergency personnel
  • Allows peace officers to participate in a certain group health insurance plan
  • Denies local governments any state aid if they violate the new legislation
  • Amends the definition of “assault” to include pointing a laser at someone
  • Expands the definition of eluding officers to include unmarked cars

Perry Beeman contributed reporting

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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.