DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds pledged Tuesday to further the cause of social justice while protecting Iowa’s law enforcement officers.
In her annual televised Condition of the State address — which she switched from its usual daytime slot to evening in hopes of reaching more Iowans — also proposed sweeping programs to bridge Iowa’s digital divide and educate students.
Though her 41-minute speech, delivered as usual in the Iowa Capitol, was packed with proposals for legislators to take up this year, none was perhaps more significant than her pledge to introduce legislation she said promotes social justice and protects law enforcement officials. Reynolds said she will propose a ban on racial profiling by police, and also define punishments for anyone who participates in a riot or attacks law enforcement officers.
“I’ll be introducing a bill that protects law enforcement and continues our march toward racial justice,” the Republican governor said, according to her prepared remarks. “The bill will make clear that if you riot or attack our men and women in uniform, you will be punished. We won’t stand for it. The bill will also ban racial profiling and other forms of disparate treatment. Because no actions should ever be taken based upon the color of someone’s skin. As Martin Luther King Jr. recognized, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
In 2020, Reynolds and lawmakers approved social justice legislation shortly after the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man killed in police custody there, which sparked civil unrest and renewed national discussion about social justice.
The state legislation approved last year banned the use of police choke holds, with some exceptions; required de-escalation and bias training for police; banned hiring officers who have been fired for misconduct or for using excessive force; and cleared the state attorney general to investigate cases when an officer’s actions resulted in a death.
Reynolds said policy makers should always be willing to discuss ways to improve policing, but that she will not participate in any efforts to “defund” law enforcement agencies, a reference to a rallying cry that emerged from some of last year’s protests.
“That’s not going to happen in Iowa. Not on my watch,” she said.
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This year’s address was delivered to a sparse audience in the Iowa House chamber, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge. Attendance from the public was limited to invited guests, and not all legislators attended. But Reynolds’ remarks were broadcast live as usual.
During the address, Reynolds also made a nearly half-billion-dollar pledge when she called on lawmakers to establish the goal of getting affordable, high-speed broadband internet access to all corners of Iowa over four years.
Reynolds proposed $450 million in state funding over the next four years to achieve the goal. She predicted it will attract “millions more” in private investment.
“I’m done taking small steps and hoping for big change. This is the time for bold action and leadership. Let’s plant a stake in the ground and declare that every part of Iowa will have affordable, high-speed broadband by 2025,” she said.
Reynolds said the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced more employees to work and students to learn from home, highlighted what was already widely acknowledged to be an area of need. She said roughly a third of Iowa’s counties are broadband deserts.
She also made multiple policy proposals for K-12 education, including a requirement that districts give students and parents the option of 100 percent in-person instruction; a requirement that all districts permit open enrollment; state funding for a pool that families could use to pay for private school tuition; and the creation of charter public schools, which operate free of state education guidelines.
“Make no mistake, it’s imperative that we have a strong public school system — which is why we have and will continue to prioritize school funding while many other states are cutting their education budgets,” Reynolds said. “But school choice isn’t a zero-sum game. It has the potential to raise the quality for all schools. And for those schools that do fall behind, it ensures our children don’t fall with them.”
Reynolds also proposed $28 million for creating more access to affordable child care. Of that, $3 million would go to a program that supports public-private partnerships to create child care facilities and $25 million would go to child care development block grants designed to promote child care start-ups.
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Reynolds began her remarks by chronicling the challenging year that was 2020. She noted the pandemic, social unrest and the derecho.
“We’ve been beaten and battered in about every way imaginable and some unimaginable. But together, we’ve met every challenge with bravery and outright grit,” she said. “We’re told that tribulation produces perseverance and perseverance, character. From what I’ve seen, there’s no shortage of character in the people of Iowa. And despite what we’ve been through — or maybe because of it — the condition of our state has never been stronger.”
At one point during her remarks, Reynolds called for a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. More than 4,200 Iowans have died because of it so far.
Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, of Charles City, said in an interview with Iowa PBS that Democrats look forward to working with Republicans on the governor’s social justice proposal.
However, Prichard said Reynolds’ K-12 education plans could be viewed as “warfare with our public schools.” He called the requirement of a 100-percent in-person learning option a one-size-fits-all approach that will not work for some districts, and said he fears any state funding or private school tuition will come at the expense of public school funding.
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