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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Four ways the Iowa Supreme Court may handle next big abortion case

The Iowa Supreme Court will soon revisit one of the most politically charged questions of our time.

Last week a Johnson County District Court permanently blocked the state from “implementing, effectuating or enforcing” a law requiring a 24-hour waiting period before all abortions. Judge Mitchell Turner ruled the law unconstitutional on two grounds. The state is appealing the ruling and argues that a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court precedent, which established a fundamental right to an abortion under the Iowa Constitution, was “wrongly decided.”

Republican lawmakers planned for this scenario when they approved the waiting period during the waning hours of the 2020 legislative session. They may get their wish, but a reversal of the 2018 decision is not guaranteed.

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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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Iowa Supreme Court rejects challenge on Raccoon River water quality

Neil Hamilton is the former director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center and professor emeritus at Drake University law school. He submitted an amicus curiae brief in this case on behalf of several Drake law professors, who urged the Iowa Supreme Court to define the political question doctrine narrowly in order to preserve “citizen’s access to the courts of Iowa for the vindication of their constitutional rights.”

In a closely decided 4-3 split ruling the Iowa Supreme Court rejected a case filed by Iowa Citizens for Community Action and Food and Water Watch alleging the state of Iowa failed to protect the interests of the public in the Raccoon River. The case involved an appeal from the Polk County District Court rejection of the state’s motion to dismiss the case. 

The majority ruled the district court’s decision should be reversed and the case dismissed, concluding the plaintiffs do not have standing to bring the suit, and their effort to use the public trust doctrine to establish the duty of state officials is a “nonjusticiable political question.” The majority’s ruling and analysis generated three separate dissenting opinions, all agreeing the case should move forward, in large part because the state had conceded the plaintiffs had standing and the merits of the public trust doctrine were not in question.

A reading of the majority opinion shows it was premised on a determination by the four justices to not involve the Court in the difficult and controversial political issues involving water quality in Iowa. This motivation was demonstrated in at least four ways:

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Waterloo's "ban the box" ordinance survives in part—for now

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled on June 18 that part of the city of Waterloo’s “ban the box” ordinance can remain in effect despite a 2017 law prohibiting local governments from regulating “terms or conditions of employment.”

The city adopted the ordinance in November 2019 to address economic racial disparities. Because African Americans are more likely to have a criminal record, they are adversely affected by job applications that require a person to note whether they have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Under Waterloo’s ordinance, employers may not inquire about past convictions, arrests, or pending criminal charges “during the application process,” but may do so after extending “a conditional offer of employment.” The court found that was allowed, because it regulates only “the time when an employer can inquire into a prospective employee’s criminal history,” which is not “a term or condition of employment.”

However, the Iowa Supreme Court held that state law preempts other portions of Waterloo’s ordinance, which prohibit employers from making an “adverse hiring decision” based on an applicant’s criminal history.

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Revised lawsuit challenges Iowa's newest voter suppression law

Plaintiffs challenging Iowa’s manifold new restrictions on voting amended their complaint on June 9 to incorporate provisions in a law Governor Kim Reynolds signed the previous day.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa (LULAC) filed suit in Polk County District Court in March, charging that Senate File 413 violated Iowa constitutional provisions on the right to vote, free speech, free assembly, and equal protection. Their revised petition asks the court to invalidate two sections of Senate File 568 as well as thirteen sections of the law enacted earlier this year.

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