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DES MOINES, Iowa — After protesters called for action in daily demonstrations for nearly two weeks, the state House and Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan police reform bill on Thursday, hours after it was introduced.

Both chambers passed the “historic” legislation back-to-back with Black Lives Matter demonstrators watching from above, who have brought their demands inside the capitol for the past few days.

Two Black Lives Matter activists overlook the House chamber with their fists up high, after House lawmakers passed police reform legislation unanimously on Thursday night. Majority Leader Rep. Matt Windschitl acknowledged the group, saying “We hear you. And we want justice for everyone.” (Photo by Monica Madden)

Lawmakers gave impassioned speeches on the significance of the bill — which was only an idea last week, as a direct response to the national uproar over the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, helped lead the effort and called this moment of unity “rare” and all the more important.

“Because of today, a young black man will be alive a year from now. It’s significant,” he said. “The work we do in this place is often difficult. It’s often divisive. Rarely do we find common ground on issues that are this broad and have this impact but today hopefully Iowa can be an example for the rest of the nation.”

Smith noted that Iowa is one of the first states to pass legislation this swiftly in response to national public outcry for policy changes in police reform.

“I never would have dreamed that I could stand on the floor of the Iowa Legislature and support a bill that would help all of this indignity to black Americans stop,” said Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines. “But here I am. And here it is.”

Both Republicans and Democrats gave high praise to the bill as a key step in addressing racial inequities in the state but acknowledged this legislation is only the beginning.

“Is this a solution to every problem we have? To all the injustice? No. But it’s a damn good start and we can move forward from here. And we can do so, united of Iowans,” Majority Leader Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines — who has been a fighting voice for the African American community and served as a peacemaker during recent protests — thanked the demonstrators for garnering the attention of lawmakers, who ultimately have the ability to make real policy change.

“I saw the tears. I saw the pain. I heard the hurt. But that’s what it took for us to move, but now we have moved, let us keep moving. Let us not turn around,” he said during an emotional debate on the House floor. “This is the first step to get to the end of the tunnel.”

If signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds, the legislation will do the following:

  • Allow 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.
  • Prevent law enforcement officers and reserve officers who have been fired for serious misconduct from being employed as law enforcement officers in Iowa.
  • Set out de-escalation techniques and prevention of bias training

In a rare move, Gov. Reynolds watched the debate happen from the chamber floor in a signal of her support for the legislation and is expected to sign it. She sent out the following statement shortly after:

“These problems didn’t arise overnight and they won’t be fixed in a day. We are just getting started, but our work together shows Iowa is willing to have the tough conversations and to look past our differences to find common ground and a brighter future for all Iowans.”

The bill passed 98-0 in the Iowa House and 49-0 in the Iowa Senate Thursday evening.