116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES - The Iowa Senate passed legislation Monday intended to strengthen 'qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers who take forceful action in situations where state law is 'not sufficiently clear” to understand their conduct might violate someone's constitutional protections.
Majority Republicans said the statutory language is needed to clarify court rulings and provide 'balance” in cases where the law was not 'clearly established” at the time of an incident giving rise to a claim against an officer.
Democrats said Senate File 476 ignores court direction to set a legal standard of the exercise of 'due care” by instead making 'a political point” rather than solve problems. They argued the legislation is unconstitutional and will be nullified by the court.
'A responding officer in a high-pressure situation cannot hesitate or deliberate the intentions of the law for fear of a frivolous lawsuit,” said Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, floor manager of a bill approved 36-12. Six Democrats joining 30 GOP senators to pass the bill and send it to the Iowa House for consideration.
'To be clear, this bill does not protect negligence, incompetence or officers who knowingly violate the law,” Cournoyer said. 'This bill protects men and women who protect us who are acting in good faith to perform vital tasks that require split-second decisions in stressful circumstances.”
Under provisions of the legislation, a law enforcement officer would not be found liable in any action for damages in an individual capacity if the state law was not sufficiently clear so that the officer would have understood the conduct was a violation of the Constitution or any other law, or the law was not clearly established at the time of the incident giving rise to the claim against the officer.
The burden would be on the plaintiff to show that the law enforcement officer violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right and the officer's employing agency would not be liable if the officer was found not to be liable under the new provision.
Also, the bill's language would supplant any other law that would provide less protection to a law enforcement officer.
'We're not here today to try to create something new,” said Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, 'we're trying to preserve the current law of the land right now because there are a slew of political actors out there that have decided in making kicking law enforcement in their teeth a hobby every day.”
Senate File 476 also would make changes to the current provisions of the peace officers' bill of rights and expand confidentiality of certain information in law enforcement and judicial settings.
Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, argued that rather than making a 'symbolic gesture at best” by passing language that was 'almost certainly unconstitutional,” the Legislature would do better in passing 'all due care” language included in a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling.
'The purpose of the legislative process is not to introduce unconstitutional legislation. It does no service to anyone to create a duty or an immunity that we have very clear instructional language from our courts to say that it is not applicable or enforceable,” according to Boulton.
'We recognize that we have law enforcement officers that make split-second decisions in our streets and in our communities to achieve that objection. We also want to make that we have officer that have a qualified immunity that is enforceable, not one that adds less clarity to their jobs and frankly runs the risk of making our communities less safe as a result,” he added.
Also Monday, Iowa senators voted 29-18 to make changes to local regulations over manufacturing housing communities in situations of non-conforming uses when a replacement manufactured home is being placed on a site in the park.
Under Senate File 469, a non-conforming use is a use of property that was allowed under the zoning regulations at the time the use was established but which - because of subsequent changes in those regulations - is no longer a permitted use. The prohibits any city or county from imposing any conditions on a replacement manufactured, modular or mobile home that were not required of the preexisting home that would prevent the continuance of the non-conforming use with certain exceptions.
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