After landmark 2020 bill, Iowa state lawmakers set goal of promoting social justice
DES MOINES – Last year’s session brought a historic change in social justice legislation, prompted by the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the suffocation of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Iowa lawmakers from both political parties pledged at this monumental moment that the legislation was only the beginning of a discussion of racial and social justice.
They resume their work on Monday for the 2021 session. Will they honor this commitment to move the conversation forward?
“I don’t think anyone thinks our job here is done. I think when we brought this bill forward, everyone recognized it was a first step, ”said Zach Wahls de Coralville, Senate Democratic Minority Leader. “There is definitely more work to be done.”
Legislation passed last year banned the use of police choke holds, with few exceptions, required de-escalation and prejudice training for police, prohibited the recruitment of officers dismissed for misconduct or for use excessive force and authorized the state attorney general to investigate the cases. when an agent’s actions resulted in the death of an individual.
A few months later, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued an executive order automatically restoring the voting rights of any Iowan who was convicted of a felony and served his sentence. Reynolds had led an effort to change the Iowa Constitution to achieve this, but that process derailed in the Republicans-led Iowa Senate. Reynolds therefore issued his executive order shortly before the 2020 election.
Attempts at additional social justice legislation this year could include tackling racial profiling in law enforcement, decriminalizing marijuana, and correcting disparities in the justice system.
Republicans hold majorities in both the Iowa Senate and House, so they set the legislative agenda.
“Our caucus has been working on (justice issues) for four years,” said Jack Whitver of Ankeny, Republican majority leader. “The main thing is to modernize our penal code so that it corresponds to the 21st century. … We have been trying to correct this for a long time.
Whitver and Pat Grassley, the Speaker of the New Hartford Republican House, appeared to indicate they did not expect the constitutional amendment on the criminal vote to come back this year, but said they would give it some thought. if the governor suggests it. Lawyers, while being satisfied with the governor’s decree, prefer a constitutional amendment, which is more permanent than a decree, which can be overturned by the next governor.
Reynolds created a FOCUS committee last year to discuss other social justice proposals.
The committee was made up of state officials, law enforcement officials and lawyers, and its work was headed by Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg, a former public defender of the state.
The committee met at least five times after last year’s session and in October issued a report with three recommendations, all of which support impartial policing:
“Require and automate the collection of race and ethnicity data from law enforcement authorities.
“Analyze and study the data and provide annual reports on the results.
“Prohibit disparate treatment in law enforcement activities and the delivery of policing services.
“Race and other individual demographics simply should not be a factor in police action outside of situations involving a description of a specific suspect, and Iowa law should reflect this principle.” , the committee report said.
Whitver and Grassley said their members will review the recommendations.
“I have no doubts that our Judicial Committee is reviewing the Lieutenant Governor’s recommendations,” Whitver said. “We will sort them.”
Wahls said he hoped lawmakers would consider another report, tabled in December by the State Department for Human Rights, which talks about “breaking the cycle of intergenerational injustice.”
This report recommends action to end racial profiling, but also recommends that lawmakers review policies designed to eliminate racial disparities in adult and juvenile criminal justice systems, and in the excessive use of force on incarcerated Iowans .
Todd Prichard of Charles City, a lawyer who is the House’s Democratic minority leader, said he was happy with last year’s landmark law and hopes for more action this year.
“I think this shows a commitment from both sides in the state that we are committed to justice in Iowa society,” Prichard said.
“ As someone who has worked in law enforcement as a prosecutor, the best way to make the streets safe for everyone, for the police and for the public, is to have and develop relationships and trust between the public and police and (other) law enforcement agencies. “
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Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signs bipartisan legislation on June 12, 2020 on the steps of the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Historic law, in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests, banned the use of police choke blocks and mandated other elements on an impartial police. Iowa lawmakers plan to continue discussion of other reforms during this year’s legislative session, which begins Monday. (Olivia Sun / Des Moines registration via AP)
Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, Speaker of the House
Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, Minority Leader
Senator Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, Majority Leader
Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, Minority Leader