DES MOINES, Iowa — The police killing of George Floyd sparked conversations nationwide, rethinking law enforcement as an institution and how to hold officers accountable.
In Iowa, it took less than three weeks after Floyd’s death for the state legislature to unanimously pass a historic police reform bill, with promises from lawmakers to continue that march toward racial justice.
Before signing the “Plan for a More Perfect Union” act into law, Gov. Kim Reynolds called it a start.
“And to the thousands of Iowans who have taken to the streets, calling for reforms to address inequities faced by people of color in our state, I want you to know that this is not the end of our work. It’s just the beginning,” she said on June 12, 2020.
Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, is a longtime leader in the fight for racial justice and said at the time, he felt very hopeful for big changes.
“What gave the hope wasn’t just the language in the policy, but the fact that we were working across the aisles together,” he said. “…It was probably one of the best negotiations that I have been a part of in my 15 years at the Capitol.”
When the governor unveiled her “Back the Blue” plan during her condition of the state address in January, she said it “protects law enforcement and continues our march toward racial justice.” Her original proposed language included provisions to ban racial profiling in the state and create an automated data collection system on race and ethnicity from law enforcement stops. However, those two provisions did not make it in the final bill passed by the legislature.
“We begin to unravel what we did last June. We stopped the conversation midstream so we weren’t able to continue. That’s what made this part of the legislative session a sad commentary for Iowans,” Abdul-Samad said. “We did nothing on racial profiling, which was something that was promised in the more perfect union discussion.”
Abdul-Samad said Democratic leaders who helped draft the “More Perfect Union” bill were excluded from conversations with Republicans, who control both chambers, for the policing legislation.
“When we did the ‘More Perfect Union,’ what made that a union was us being included in the process,” he said. “What messed up with the ‘Back the Blue’ was the fact that when you state that if we don’t vote for this we don’t support the police department — that’s such an incorrect fear statement and that’s a statement meant to create fear.”
Abdul-Samad was referring to remarks Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, made on the House floor, where Klein said lawmakers who voted against the Back the Blue bill “do not support law enforcement.”
Republicans like Klein have said the pro-police legislation was necessary after more violent scenes they saw during last summer’s racial justice protests. WHO 13 News reached out to several GOP lawmakers who led the charge on the bills but did not receive a response.
“At a time when other states are demonizing law enforcement and forcing good ones out, we have an opportunity to bring the good ones here,” Klein said in a March. “Let’s bring the good ones here. Let’s pass legislation that supports good law enforcement officers.”
What’s in the ‘Back the Blue’ plan? (Passed by lawmakers in 2021)
- Strengthens legal protections for police
- Raises penalties for many protest-related offenses, like rioting and unlawful assembly
- Expands civil lawsuit protections that police officers have under the doctrine of “qualified immunity”
- Eliminates liability for some drivers who injure people participating in an unlawful protest but are exercising “due care”
- Adjusts several benefit programs for officers
What’s in the ‘More Perfect Union’ plan? (Signed into law in 2020)
- Allows the attorney general to investigate and prosecute a law enforcement official if his or her actions cause death
- Prohibits the use of a chokehold, except in very specific and limited situations outlined in code
- Prevents law enforcement officers and reserve officers who have been fired for serious misconduct from being employed as law enforcement officers in Iowa
- Sets out de-escalation techniques and prevention of bias training