Government

Grassley, Ernst say Iowa sets example for congressional action on police reform

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa (Washington Post photo by Melina Mara)
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa (Washington Post photo by Melina Mara)

Iowa’s U.S. senators are holding up the state Legislature’s unanimous approval of police reform legislation as an example for Congress.

Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have been praising Iowa lawmakers for their quick and decisive actions last week to enact a package of reforms advanced by black members of the Legislature. Both senators are former Iowa legislators — Grassley in the House and Ernst in the Senate.

The unanimous passage of the legislation was “very, very good news,” Grassley told reporters this week.

“Washington can learn a heck of a lot by the bipartisan approach that Iowa will use in solving these pressing issues connected with the police,” he said about the Iowa law that was simultaneously and unanimously approved in the House and Senate on June 11 before being signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds the following day.

“If the Iowa Legislature can do this with unanimity, surely Congress can get it done,” Grassley said.

Ernst called the unanimous passage of the law “pretty darned remarkable,” adding that although members of Congress may find areas of disagreement, “let’s find a path forward, let’s find a way and let’s see if we can come together and have a unanimous decision in this body.”

Grassley and Ernst are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had a hearing Wednesday on police use of force. They’re also co-sponsors of a package of reforms introduced by Sen. Tim Scott, a black Republican from South Carolina.

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“The public is understandably demanding change in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the police, as you saw an outrageous act taking place right there on TV,” Grassley said.

Ernst believes everyone who watched that video had a “very visceral, very personal reaction.”

As a mother, Ernst said at the hearing, hearing Floyd calling out for his mother in his final minutes was poignant. “I can’t imagine if that had been my daughter.”

Ernst also acknowledged that the conversation the Senate — and the nation — is having is “very uncomfortable because we don’t like to talk about racism, and we don’t like to talk about the fact that there might be injustice in this wonderful country.”

However, the conversation is needed and should be broader than the George Floyd case, said Ernst, who is a co-sponsor of the Walter Scott Notification Act to address the lack of data on officer-involved shootings.

Grassley expects debate on Scott’s package of reforms to begin next week.

“Victims of police abuse deserve justice. So it’s important that we work together for a solution that holds bad cops accountable and begins to restore trust in law enforcement,” Grassley said.

He’s optimistic Congress can pass something meaningful.

According to Scott, Grassley said, the provisions in his bill and one proposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are 75 percent alike.

“If that’s the case, it seems to me that you wouldn’t get into a lot of partisan angles,” Grassley said. “If you’re expecting to get 100 percent and want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, then, obviously, you won’t get anything done.

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“But surely, if there’s that much (agreement) already, we’re going to be able to get something done.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Iowa Police Reform

House File 2647, adopted unanimously by the Iowa Legislature and signed into law last week, has four major provisions:

• Ban the use of chokeholds unless an officer believes his or her life is at risk.

• Revoke law enforcement certification for officers who were fired or resigned due to serious misconduct while working. It also prohibits Iowa from certifying officers who were charged with serious misconduct in other states

• Give the Iowa Attorney General’s Office authority to investigate and prosecute officers who commit criminal offenses that lead to death.

• Require law enforcement agencies to provide implicit bias and de-escalation training every year.

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