116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Things were supposed to be different this time. For a while, it seemed like they would be.
A year ago today, a police officer in Minneapolis murdered a Black man in the street by kneeling on his neck for nearly 10 minutes as the man pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. George Floyd’s killing, captured on video and shared around the world, was going to be the catalyst for real, fundamental change in our law enforcement systems.
A few weeks later, Iowa lawmakers unanimously passed a law aimed at preventing police misconduct. It restricted police chokeholds, strengthened anti-bias training for officers and prohibited rehiring officers who were fired for misconduct.
When Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the “More Perfect Union Act” last June, everyone involved agreed it was only the first step toward stronger police oversight and accountability. It turned out to be the first and the last.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ fellow Republicans took no meaningful action on recommendations released late last year by the criminal justice reform task force that Reynolds appointed and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg led.
At the start of the 2021 legislative session, Reynolds vowed to continue the effort with a statutory ban on racial profiling by police. Confoundingly, though, she tried to package that with legislation to crack down on protesters and give police even more cover from scrutiny.
“Let’s come together again, like we did last year, to support our law enforcement and racial justice. Let’s make Iowa a safer place for everyone,” the governor said at her Condition of the State address in January.
Lawmakers only got half the memo. They passed legislation to support law enforcement, but they did it at the expense of justice.
The “Back the Blue” legislation approved by lawmakers in the final days of the session this month will make it harder for the public to hold police accountable, and it will severely hamper communities’ ability to bring their police departments in line with local values.
As part of the tough-on-crime omnibus bill, which awaits Reynolds’ signature, lawmakers are putting “qualified immunity” in the state code.
Qualified immunity is a federal legal doctrine that shields police and other government workers from liability when they break the law. It’s not based on any law or the text of the Constitution, but instead was invented by the Supreme Court, a classic example of legislating from the bench and judicial activism, which we conservatives are supposed to reject.
While Iowa is codifying qualified immunity, a few other states are moving to abolish it and federal lawmakers are working on a bipartisan deal to reform the practice.
Giving government officials special legal protection is the antithesis of limited government. After this legislative session, we can safely assume who elected Iowa Republicans would have sided with in the dispute between the red coats and the American revolutionaries.
Reynolds’ fellow Republicans took no meaningful action on recommendations released late last year by the criminal justice reform task force that Reynolds appointed and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg led.
The Reynolds-Gregg panel called for requiring data collection about police interactions and a statewide project to analyze the data in annual reports. It would have generated valuable information about law enforcement activity to better inform reform efforts.
Those are common-sense, bipartisan solutions with support from law enforcement, but the Legislature balked anyway. They were too busy backing the blue.
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