116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
State lawmakers in Iowa are considering a trio of bills this session collectively labeled 'Back the Blue” by supporters. What's disappointing is that lawmakers didn't go back to last summer, when they approved a bipartisan package of policing reforms amid protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
When Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill, it was hailed as only a start. With that victory and a gubernatorial task force also working on justice reforms, hopes were raised that more progress would be made in the 2021 session.
That didn't happen. Republican Lawmakers scrapped a bill proposed by Reynolds that would prohibit law enforcement from using racial profiling. They, instead, embraced her 'Back the Blue” proposals.
Senate File 534 expands and toughens penalties for crimes such as criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, harassment and unlawful assembly. It's aimed directly at Black Lives Matter protests that occurred in Iowa cities last summer.
Senate File 479 would take state funds away from cities that cut police budgets. No Iowa community is considering defunding police, but the bill could discourage efforts to change the focus of policing at the local level.
Senate File 476 would provide law enforcement personnel with broad immunity from lawsuits resulting from the use of force. Opponents contend the bill's definition of 'qualified immunity” is too expansive.
Whether you support or oppose these bills, it's what's missing that represents a legislative failure. The fruitful dialogue between young social justice advocates, Black community leaders, lawmakers from both parties and the governor to target systemic racism in the justice system has vanished. Bipartisanship and vows to do more have faded away.
Instead, GOP lawmakers have decided to make this yet another divisive, us-versus- them issue. And they're resorting to the same old formula of tough-on-crime legislation that has led to a justice system plagued by flaws and inequities. The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency concludes that, due to current racial disparities in the justice system, the crimes and penalties expanded in Senate File 534 will disproportionately affect Black Iowans.
We already have crimes and protections on the books that back the blue. Nobody wants police officers to be harmed. But tilting the balance between state power and protest further toward the powerful is not going to make protesters stay home. It's going to intensify the anger and frustration driving them to the streets.
That's where they know their voices can be heard. Because at the Statehouse, leaders are no longer listening.
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