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Democrats in Iowa Legislature add racial injustice issues to agenda

The State Capitol in Des Moines in 2014. (The Gazette)
The State Capitol in Des Moines in 2014. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Legislative Democrats said Monday they hope majority Republicans will focus on crafting a state budget, addressing the state’s COVID-19 needs and finding ways to deal with racial injustices in Iowa as lawmakers wind down their 2020 session this month.

“Now more than ever we need to stay away from partisan issues and focus on issues Iowans care about,” Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said during an online conference with reporters that she and House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, held two days before the Legislature is slated to return to the Capitol.

While budget and coronavirus issues have taken center stage, the Legislature’s two top Democrats called on Gov. Kim Reynolds and majority Republicans, who control the debate agenda, to take action on criminal justice reform once the “paused” 2020 session resumes Wednesday.

“The events that unfolded over the weekend show that Iowans want to advance equality and racial justice in our state,” Petersen told the online conference. “We will reach out to our Republican colleagues and the governor and see if they have the political will to make some significant changes. Iowans are clearly ready.”

Among the issues raised but not addressed have been bills to address racial profiling by Iowa law officers, reduce some drug offense penalties, expand Iowans’ voting rights and advance the governor’s second-chance criminal justice initiative and her push to restore voting rights to felons who have been released.

“These issues aren’t new ideas,” Prichard noted. “We’ve had a lot of talk, but not enough action.”

The legislative Democrats said federal stimulus help has been slow to reach Iowans with lax GOP oversight, and they hoped to expedite and expand assistance, tap state surplus reserves will passing a balanced state spending plan that meets health care, education and other priorities while “fixing the problems created by the pandemic.”

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To that end, they released a COVID-19 recovery agenda that included ways to keep Iowans healthy via testing, transparency and accountability, while also pursuing ways to open business safely and protect workers.

GOP leaders have indicated they are looking to formulate a “status quo” fiscal 2021 state budget that does not use one-time sources of money to fund ongoing expenses.

Capitol security

This year’s session resumes amid a number of health and safety precautions designed to maintain social distancing and prevent COVID-19 spread while legislators conduct their remaining 2020 session business.

A new challenge that has arisen since plans were put in place are security concerns related to protests stemming from the death of a Minneapolis man at the hands of police officers last week.

Sgt. Alex Dinkla of the Iowa State Patrol said authorities and Capitol police have plans in place to deal with unruly situations that may arise inside or outside the Statehouse. .

“Everybody has their rights, and we definitely want to support those individuals that want to do the peaceful protest,” Dinkla said Monday. “It’s just when the protests choose to get out of hand and start destroying different people’s property, that’s where we just hope that we don’t have to keep going as we move forward.”

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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