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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Policing bill would worsen Iowa's justice system disparities

Most of the new crimes and enhanced penalties that would be established under a policing bill approved by the Iowa House would have a disparate impact on Black people, according to analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Before passing Senate File 342, Iowa House members amended what had been a narrowly-focused bill on officer discipline to include several other so-called “Back the Blue” proposals: giving law enforcement more protection against lawsuits, increasing benefits for officers, and greatly increasing the criminal penalties for some protest-related actions.

For seven of the nine crimes addressed in the “Back the Blue” bill, now pending in the Iowa Senate, the LSA found the “conviction rate for African Americans exceeds the population proportion of the State, which would lead to a racial impact if trends remain constant.”

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Who's who in the Iowa House for 2021

The Iowa House opened its 2021 session on January 11 with 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats, a big improvement for the GOP from last year’s 53-47 split.

The House members include 69 men and 31 women (21 Democrats and ten Republicans), down from a record 34 women in 2019 and 33 women last year.

Six African Americans (Democrats Ako Abdul-Samad, Ruth Ann Gaines, Ras Smith, Phyllis Thede, and Ross Wilburn, and Republican Eddie Andrews) will serve in the legislature’s lower chamber. Republican Mark Cisneros is the first Latino elected to the Iowa legislature, and Republican Henry Stone is only the second Asian American to serve in the House. The other 92 state representatives are white.

Democrat Liz Bennett is the only out LGBTQ member of the Iowa House. To my knowledge, Abdul-Samad (who is Muslim) is the only lawmaker in either chamber to practice a religion other than Christianity.

I’ve posted details below on the Iowa House majority and minority leadership teams, along with all chairs, vice chairs, and members of standing House committees. Where relevant, I’ve noted changes since last year.

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Now she tells us

More than four months into the novel coronavirus pandemic, Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Public Health are finally acknowledging that slowing the spread of COVID-19 will require many more Iowans to routinely cover their faces in public.

Their “#StepUpMaskUpIA” campaign might have been more successful if state officials had pushed the message before reopening businesses and lifting other COVID-19 mitigation strategies in May and June. Instead, top officials waited until new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths had been trending upward in Iowa for weeks.

Public health experts at the University of Iowa urged state leaders months ago to call for universal use of face coverings. But at her televised news conferences, Reynolds repeatedly asserted that expanded testing would allow the state to “manage” and “control” the virus. At the same events, the governor regularly portrayed face masks as something vulnerable Iowans might need, or a precaution people could bring with them in case they found themselves in a crowded setting.

As recently as last week, Reynolds was photographed in close proximity to others, with no one’s face covered. Even now, she refuses to delegate authority so local governments can issue enforceable mask orders.

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Iowa's Ag Gag 3.0 may get past courts

It took them long enough.

After federal courts blocked two laws designed to suppress unauthorized access to livestock production facilities, Iowa lawmakers approved and Governor Kim Reynolds signed a third attempt to keep animal rights activists from filming or photographing conditions inside farm buildings or slaughterhouses. This time, the legislature finally took the path state attorneys recommended way back in 2011: beef up the trespassing law as applied to agriculture, without reference to speech or expression.

The new law has a realistic chance to survive a court challenge.

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