Iowa's delegation supported Juneteenth holiday

Juneteenth National Independence Day is now a federal holiday, under legislation President Joe Biden signed today. The bill commemorating the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 moved through Congress at unusual speed so it could take effect in time for this weekend. Most federal government workers will have Friday the 18th off, since the new holiday falls on a Saturday.

The U.S. Senate approved the bill through unanimous consent on June 15. Iowa’s junior Senator Joni Ernst was one of the 60 co-sponsors (including eighteen Republicans) in the upper chamber. Senator Chuck Grassley didn’t co-sponsor the bill, but at least he didn’t object to its passage. He is one of only two currently serving senators who voted against establishing a holiday to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1983. (The other is Richard Shelby of Alabama.)

U.S. House members approved the Juneteenth bill on June 16 by 415 votes to 14 (roll call). All four representatives from Iowa voted yes, which probably would not have been the case if Steve King had fended off Randy Feenstra’s primary challenge last year.

Continue Reading...

Court order clears path for more diverse juries in Iowa

For decades, researchers have found that all-white juries are more likely to convict Black defendants than white defendants, and that Black people “are systematically more likely to be excluded from juries in many contexts.” In addition, studies indicate diverse juries “perform their fact-finding tasks more effectively,” and have been shown to “deliberate longer, consider more facts, make fewer incorrect facts, correct themselves more, and have the benefit of a broader pool of life experiences […].”

In a 2017 decision that gave defendants of color another way to challenge unrepresentative jury pools, the Iowa Supreme Court recognized, “Empirical evidence overwhelmingly shows that having just one person of color on an otherwise all-white jury can reduce disparate rates of convictions between black and white defendants.” Yet African Americans have continued to be under-represented in Iowa jury pools and on trial juries.

A recent Iowa Supreme Court order takes a step toward addressing that disparity in the state’s criminal justice system.

Continue Reading...

What the voting rights order revealed about Kim Reynolds

“Quite simply, when someone serves their sentence and pays the price our justice system has set for their crimes, they should have their right to vote restored automatically, plain and simple,” Governor Kim Reynolds said on August 5, shortly before signing a critically important document.

Executive Order 7 automatically restores voting rights to most Iowans who have completed prison sentences or terms of probation or parole associated with felony convictions. The Iowa-Nebraska NAACP estimated that the order paves the way for more than 40,000 people to vote this year. Going forward, approximately 4,700 Iowans who complete felony sentences each year will regain the same rights.

Reynolds had publicly promised to sign such an order seven weeks ago, after Republican senators declined to advance the state constitutional amendment that was her preferred way of addressing the problem.

Both the substance of the measure and the way the governor announced it revealed aspects of her leadership style.

Continue Reading...

Racial disparities already apparent in Iowa's COVID-19 data

For the first time on April 14, the Iowa Department of Public Health released information about novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections by race and ethnicity. The results won’t surprise anyone who has been following the news from other parts of the country: a disproportionate number of Iowans with confirmed COVID-19 infections are African American or Latino.

Activists and some Democratic legislators had pushed for releasing the demographic information after a senior official said last week the public health department had no plans to publish a racial breakdown of Iowa’s COVID-19 numbers.

Meanwhile, Iowa reported its largest daily number of new COVID-19 cases (189) on April 14, fueled by the outbreak that has temporarily shut down a Tyson pork processing plant in Columbus Junction (Louisa County). At her daily press conference, Governor Kim Reynolds again praised efforts by meatpacking companies to slow the spread of the virus and keep workers and the food supply chain safe. However, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has highlighted unsafe workplace conditions for employees of meatpacking plants, a group that is disproportionately Latino.

Continue Reading...

Iowa House district 39 preview: Karin Derry vs. Eddie Andrews

Of the five Democrats who flipped Iowa House seats in the Des Moines suburbs in 2018, Karin Derry had the steepest uphill climb. Jennifer Konfrst and Kenan Judge were campaigning in open seats (House districts 43 and 44). Kristin Sunde was running against a GOP incumbent, but Hillary Clinton had carried House district 42, and registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans there. Heather Matson faced an incumbent in a district that had voted for Donald Trump, but the GOP had only a slight registration advantage in House district 38.

Derry challenged State Representative Jake Highfill in House district 39, where Trump outpolled Clinton and registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 2,300 going into election day.

It’s long been obvious that Derry’s seat will be among the GOP’s top targets for 2020 state House races. But until last week, Republicans didn’t have a declared candidate. Eddie Andrews made his campaign official on January 20. If elected, he would be only the second African-American Republican to serve in the Iowa legislature and the first in more than five decades.

Continue Reading...

Iowa governor names group to steer criminal justice reform efforts

Fourteen people representing a “diverse group of stakeholders” will recommend policies to reduce recidivism and racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system, Governor Kim Reynolds announced on November 4.

Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg, a former state public defender, will chair the Governor’s FOCUS Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, which will meet for the first time on November 7. FOCUS stands for “Fueling Ongoing Collaboration and Uncovering Solutions.” The other members are:

Continue Reading...
View More...