Iowa Supreme Court extends mask mandate for courtrooms

Face masks will continue to be required in all Iowa court-controlled spaces “regardless of a person’s vaccination status,” under an order the Iowa Supreme Court issued on December 6.

Like the mask mandate the high court announced in August, the requirement to wear face coverings in spaces under the judicial branch’s jurisdiction “applies statewide and does not depend on a particular county’s or area’s positivity rate or transmission status.” It does not apply to areas of county courthouses under the control of county governments. (Some boards of supervisors, including those governing Iowa’s largest counties, have approved mask mandates for county buildings and offices.)

It’s been months since Governor Kim Reynolds encouraged, let alone required, Iowans to wear masks in indoor public spaces. Fortunately, the state’s judicial branch is empowered to set its own COVID-19 mitigation policies, and has generally followed scientific consensus about the value of face coverings to reduce transmission. The Delta variant, which has been the dominant coronavirus strain in Iowa for months, spreads easily in close quarters. Legal proceedings often force attorneys, litigants, court employees, and jurors to be in the same room for hours.

The latest order signed by Chief Justice Susan Christensen establishes several other policies and practices to adapt judicial proceedings to the pandemic, informed by recommendations from a court-appointed task force and public comments.

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The real obscenity is punching down on marginalized kids

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, I should be writing about the 46 transgender or gender non-conforming people who have been killed in the United States so far in 2021—the most recorded in a single year. Most of those murder victims were people of color; young Black trans women are especially at risk.

Iowa Republicans didn’t speak out today for ensuring the safety or equality of trans or gender-nonconforming people. When GOP politicians acknowledge LGBTQ Iowans exist, it’s usually to portray them (and any attempt to accommodate them) as a threat to straight white Christians, whom Republicans value above all others.

Governor Kim Reynolds scored points with her base by scapegoating trans athletes in the spring. More recently, conservative politicians and their activist allies have demanded that high school libraries remove books that explore sexual themes, especially queer sexuality. They are also targeting books by authors of color that supposedly contain obscenity or portray some institutions in a negative way.

Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman announced this week that he is having legislation drafted “to create a new felony offense” in Iowa for educators who disseminate “what I believe to be obscene material.” Chapman promised his bill will have “additional mechanisms to force prosecutions or allow civil remedies.”

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Iowa detains Black youth at highest national rate

No state in the country has placed a higher proportion of Black youth in juvenile facilities than Iowa, according to a new Sentencing Project analysis. The Black youth placement rate in Iowa was more than double the national average in 2019, and young African Americans in Iowa were nearly nine times as likely as their white peers to be committed to facilities such as “detention centers, residential treatment centers, group homes, and youth prisons.”

Josh Rovner was the lead author of Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration, which the Sentencing Project published on July 15. The two-page report included statistics on youth placement in Washington, DC and the 36 states where at least 8,000 residents are African Americans between the ages of 10 and 17.

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Pissed off: New Iowa law makes fake urine a crime

Marty Ryan covers a new law that received little attention early this year. -promoted by Laura Belin

A private sector employee from Iowa goes across the border on a Friday after work to Illinois. His friends offer a blunt, and he takes a hit. He thinks nothing of it, because recreational use of pot is legal in Illinois. On his way home on Sunday, he realizes that there could be a random drug test early in the week. He’s heard marijuana will stay in his system for up to 30 days, so he purchases a package of fake urine at a vape shop.

Monday morning, he is asked to take a drug test. He manages to get the fake urine into the beaker without anyone seeing him.

Days later, a lab result indicates that he may have used fake urine. Depending on a union contract, an employee handbook, or company policy that has been posted conspicuously, the employee may be disciplined, or in a severe case terminated. Now, he can also be arrested for a simple misdemeanor.

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Iowa's new qualified immunity law may not hold up in court

“Iowa’s law enforcement will always have my respect, and I will always have their back,” Governor Kim Reynolds declared while signing Senate File 342 on June 17. Sections 12 through 16 of the wide-ranging policing bill establish a “qualified immunity” standard for Iowa. Effective immediately upon the governor’s signature, state employees or law enforcement officers who violate individuals’ constitutional rights can be sued only if their conduct violated “clearly established” law, such that “every reasonable employee would have understood” the act was illegal.

The provisions were crafted to match decades-old federal qualified immunity standards, and to override an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that was more favorable to Iowans whose rights have been violated by police.

The new law will almost certainly be challenged. And while the conservative majority on the Iowa Supreme Court often defers to other branches of government, the justices may find that Senate File 342’s language on qualified immunity is incompatible with the Iowa Constitution.

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The angels standing behind survivors of crime

Luana Nelson-Brown is the founder and executive director of the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change. -promoted by Laura Belin

A network of people across the state of Iowa are dedicated to supporting and assisting survivors of violent crime. The job of these violent crime victim advocates, while fulfilling, isn’t easy. 

Most of us may not know what it’s like to experience crime, but we understand that these unexpected events can carry a high cost, mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. 

Violent crime has always existed, and the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an increase in violent crime across the nation, with Iowa being no exception. Victim advocates are working harder than ever to ensure that the harm caused to survivors is as minimal as possible. 

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