Staff Columnist

Laws and budgeting as payback

The artwork on the interior of the dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The artwork on the interior of the dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

Are Americans, and Iowans specifically, ready to normalize punitive public policymaking? Are we ready for legislative decisions not aimed at a public good, but crafted as political payback?

Perhaps one of the most blatant examples happened this week in Tennessee. State lawmakers, upset Memphis officials used a legal loophole to remove two statues honoring Confederate leaders, stripped $250,000 from the state budget for the city’s bicentennial celebration.

According to a report from Nashville Public Radio, lawmakers had been “debating all session how to get back at Memphis.” Republican lawmakers demanded consequences for “flouting the will of the state Legislature.”

A week earlier, a federal judge in California ruled against a U.S. Department of Justice policy that gave an edge to local police departments that cooperated with federal immigration enforcement. Under the Trump administration, grant applications for the Community Oriented Policing Services program were weighted in favor of local agencies that gave federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents more information, records and jail access than federal immigration law requires.

The court said the new rules violated the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers. Weighting the applications, the judge wrote, “upset the constitutional balance between state and federal power by requiring state and local law enforcement to partner with federal authorities.”

Here in Iowa, in addition to a host of legal and ethical problems presented by a new “sanctuary cities” law, it’s clear the measure was crafted, in part, as political payback.

In February, weeks before lawmakers passed the bill, the Gov. Kim Reynolds political campaign highlighted the language in a fundraising plea. The message sent to supporters was specific, labeling the then-proposed policy as a GOP response to local actions in Des Moines and Iowa City. More perplexing, or perhaps frustrating, is that the message came from a sitting governor who repeatedly refuses public comment on bills making their way through the Statehouse.

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Ultimately, lawmakers and the governor waived their self-imposed prohibition on unfunded local mandates to enact the law.

They did so although not one local jurisdiction was operating outside federal law.

They passed this law over the objections of law enforcement officers statewide, who testified it would make neighborhoods less safe. They passed this law despite hundreds of people demonstrating at the Capitol, and businesses cautioning against weakening the state’s workforce.

They did so for a fundraising plea. They did so because this is an election year. They passed this law, in part, as political payback. Every county, city and town in Iowa now will do more than federal law requires and negate years of effective community policing efforts, or be stripped of state funding.

And, by doing so, majority lawmakers and the governor have set an ugly precedent in our state. Punitive public policymaking begets punitive public policymaking and, regardless of the target, Iowans pay the price.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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