Gov. Kim Reynolds Signs Into Law A Police Reform Bill That Iowa Lawmakers Unanimously Passed

Follow the latest Iowa news in our Daily Digest, a liveblog where you can catch up on the headlines in five minutes and find more reporting from our news team about the stories you care about. 

COVID-19 Information:

Friday, June 12

5:17 p.m. – Percentage of positive COVID-19 tests continues to decrease in northwest Iowa’s Woodbury County

During a news conference, Siouxland District Health Department’s Tyler Brock said 12 percent of the COVID-19 tests given to Woodbury County residents have come back positive. That’s the same rate as last week. Four weeks ago, 30 percent of the tests were positive. 45 percent were positive five weeks ago. “We are seeing things head in the right direction. Okay? And keep in mind that we are still doing a lot of testing here in Woodbury County,” said Brock.

The Tyson Fresh Meats beef processing facility in nearby Dakota City, Nebraska reported in late May that it had 786 COVID-19 cases. That’s after testing its workforce of more than 4,300 in late April.

Almost 13 percent of Woodbury County’s 103,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 - the highest percentage in the state.

4:02 p.m. – Cedar Rapids officials confirm they will be establishing a citizens’ police review board

Cedar Rapids officials confirmed Friday they will be establishing a citizens’ police review board, in response to local Black Lives Matter activists. 

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, protesters throughout Iowa and across the U.S. have pushed for reforms. 

The city plans to review similar policies in other communities before setting the scope and structure of the board. “We are currently working on establishing a citizen review board. We understand this step is important to the community and we are committed to making this happen.” said Police chief Wayne Jerman.

The board is one of the demands the Cedar Rapids group Advocates for Social Justice is pushing local officials to address before Juneteenth, the anniversary of the final order to end slavery. Other priorities include decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses and making police union negotiations public. 

3:36 p.m. – Gov. Kim Reynolds signs into law a police reform bill that Iowa lawmakers unanimously passed Thursday

Reynolds signed the bill as activists and black lawmakers held their fists high, chanted “Black Lives Matter,” and held a Black Power poster in the air.  

The bill allows the attorney general to prosecute police, bans chokeholds in most cases, prevents the re-hiring of officers with a record of misconduct, and requires annual bias prevention training. 

Reynolds says George Floyd’s killing by a police officer reinforced the fact that racial injustice persists. “To the thousands of Iowans who have taken to the streets calling for reforms to address inequities faced by people of color in our state, I want you to know this is not the end of our work. This is just the beginning.”

Activists celebrated after the bill signing and are still trying to pressure Reynolds to sign an executive order to restore felon voting rights.

Read more of this story from IPR's Katarina Sostaric. 

 2:00 p.m. - Gov. Reynolds holds bill singing ceremony for police reform bill

1:47 p.m. – Black Lives Matter activists met with Gov. Kim Reynolds Friday

The activists say she agreed to work on language for an executive order to restore felon voting rights, and they’ll meet again on Monday. 

Reynolds has been pushing for a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights. It’s a process that takes several years, and the Senate hasn’t passed the proposal yet. 

Black Lives Matter activist Jassma’ray was in the meeting. She says she agrees there needs to be a constitutional amendment to make felon voting rights restoration permanent. “But also action that needs to be taken now which is the executive order. We basically put a lot of pressure on her. That she needs to—we kept reiterating the fact that this needs to happen now. There’s an election coming up. People need to be able to vote.”

The governor’s office hasn’t responded to a request for comment.

10:09 a.m. - 381 new COVID-19 cases, 3 more deaths Friday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period. 

12:49 a.m. – Iowa lawmakers unanimously pass police reforms in one ‘historic’ day

In a day that lawmakers called historic, the Iowa Legislature introduced and unanimously passed a set of police reforms Thursday as Black Lives Matter protesters looked on.

The bill passed Thursday allows the state attorney general to prosecute law enforcement officers whose actions result in death. It bans police chokeholds except when there’s a threat of deadly force. Law enforcement officers who were fired for misconduct or quit while being investigated can’t be rehired under the bill. And it requires every law enforcement officer in the state be trained in bias prevention and de-escalation techniques each year.

Read more of this story from IPR’s state government reporter Katarina Sostaric.

Thursday, June 11

10:38  p.m. – Iowa House passes election compromise

The Iowa House of Representatives has replaced a controversial elections bill proposed by Senate Republicans with a bipartisan compromise.

Senate Republicans passed a bill that would prevent the secretary of state from automatically sending mail-in ballot request forms to all registered voters. He did that in the June primary election to promote voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, and Iowa had record turnout.

The House scrapped most of the bill and passed a version that would allow the secretary of state to make emergency changes to voting procedures if the legislative council votes to approve those changes. If the council rejects the secretary of state’s proposed changes, they can suggest an alternative or take no action. The bill goes back to the Senate.

4:57 p.m. – False rumors about rioters spread on social media

False rumors about busloads of rioters allegedly targeting small cities have spread widely in recent days, including in Iowa. Multiple media organizations have debunked the online misinformation.

Despite the lack of evidence for the threats, the posts prompted some Iowa businesses to board up their windows. In Council Bluffs, the city closed three interstate exits and armed civilians patrolled the county courthouse, waiting for rioters who never materialized.

Read more on this report from Kate Payne.

4:10 p.m. - World Food Prize Foundation announces its 2020 laureate

The 2020 World Food Prize will go to Rattan Lal, a soil scientist who has worked on four continents during his five decade career.

Lal has dedicated his career to understanding the critical role of preserving and nurturing soil. He’s long been a professor at The Ohio State University, where he founded the Carbon Management & Sequestration Center.

2:41 p.m. – U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst supports establishing bipartisan commission to change Army base names

The Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee has approved an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would require the Pentagon to rename bases named after Confederate military leaders. Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is on the committee and supports establishing a bipartisan commission to look at the names.

“Work on new names, replacing those names, working with local authorities, finding a path forward so that at some point we can really begin to heal some of the racial injustice that we are feeling across the country right now,” Ernst said.

President Donald Trump has said his administration will not consider changing the name of any of the 10 Army bases named after Confederate Army officers.

2:40 p.m. – Iowa House Republicans propose status quo budget

Republicans in the Iowa House of Representatives are proposing a mostly status quo budget for the next fiscal year. Their proposal gives broad budget guidelines and directs the department of management to determine the details of how state and federal taxpayer dollars are spent. Republicans say they’re not giving up their budgeting responsibilities, and that this approach makes sense amid the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

Read more of this story from IPR's state government reporter Katarina Sostaric. 

2:12 p.m. – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says any voter should be able to request an absentee ballot

Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst weighed in on legislation in the Iowa state legislature that would prevent Iowa’s secretary of state from sending applications for mail-in ballots to all registered voters. Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate did that for the primary earlier this month because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Iowa had a record turnout.

Read more of this story from IPR's Clay Masters. 

  10:00 a.m. - 331 new COVID-19 cases, 9 more deaths Thursday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period. 

Wednesday, June 10

6:42 p.m. – Iowa Senate passes bill limiting secretary of state’s authority to change the election process

The Iowa Senate has passed a bill to limit the secretary of state’s authority to change the election process during an emergency like the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate sent mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters this year to promote voting from home in the June primary election. Iowa saw record turnout. Republicans supporting the bill say it’s needed to put checks and balances on the secretary’s power.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds was asked about the bill.

“He sent out requests for absentee ballots, so I think that was fine. And I’ll wait and see where they end up with the legislation. It’s been a longstanding practice of mine not to comment on legislation until I see it in its final form,” she said.

Democrats say the bill could put voters at risk and limit voting access in the November election when coronavirus is still expected to be a problem.

Read more about the bill from IPR's state government reporter Katarina Sostaric. 

4:24 p.m. – 2020 Iowa State Fair cancelled 

There will be no Iowa State Fair in Des Moines in 2020. The Iowa State Fair board voted 11 to 2 Wednesday to cancel this year’s event because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gary Slater is the director of the Iowa State Fair.  He says fair officials did work on plans to hold the event with extra health precautions. “It became a challenge to have a fair that we could all enjoy and be proud of and at the same time, our surveys indicated that our attendance would be greatly reduced.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds said earlier in the day she would support whatever decision the board made. Iowa joins neighboring Minnesota and Wisconsin in canceling their 2020 state fairs.

4:14 p.m. – Northwest Iowa county known for its summer tourism sees sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases

Before Memorial Day, Dickinson County had seven COVID-19 cases. Now the county has more than 80.

Mitch Watters is on the Arnolds Park City Council. He says the region is getting busy, which is great for businesses and the economy. But he says he’s also seen a lot of people in town not wearing masks or social distancing. “We need the tourism to survive in a small community the size of Arnolds Park, but yet we also need to practice the social distancing.”

The county board of supervisors in April required people traveling from at least 100 miles away to self-quarantine for 14 days. But as COVID-19 inched closer to the county, the board felt it wasn’t enforceable.

4:10 p.m. – University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Kirkwood Community College release new plans to return to campus in the fall

The University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Kirkwood Community College have released updated plans to return to campus in the fall with a hybrid class schedule, to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Each of the schools will allow for a blend of in-person and virtual classes, depending on the course work and students’ needs. ISU and UNI will both start their fall semesters a week early and wrap up before Thanksgiving, to avoid further spread over the holiday. 

Those on campus will be expected to wear face coverings, and dorms and dining halls will be reconfigured to allow for social distancing. 

3:10 p.m. – Black Lives Matter protesters gather at the Capitol

Black Lives Matter protesters entered the Iowa Capitol Wednesday to talk about their demands for state government. The Des Moines Black Lives Matter group wants lawmakers to pass police reforms, decriminalize cannabis, end juvenile detention, and reject a bill that could limit absentee voting. And they’re asking Gov. Kim Reynolds to immediately restore felon voting rights with an executive order. 

Protest leader Matthew Bruce said lawmakers don’t seem like they’re ready to do the work of ending racist violence.

“They seem like they’re ready to give us lip service, tell us that they feel our pain, but when it comes to actually going in and holding their colleagues to the fire, they seem very, very, very reluctant to actually do work on the issue,” Bruce said.

Protesters also demanded a meeting with Reynolds and were unhappy when her office directed them to go through an online process to make an appointment.

Read more from IPR's state government reporter Katarina Sostaric. 

1:26 p.m. – Gov. Reynolds lifts capacity restrictions on businesses

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced at a press conference Wednesday that beginning Friday at 8 a.m. businesses are no longer restricted to 50 percent of their maximum capacity.

However, Reynolds said that some businesses like bars, restaurants and theaters will still need to follow social distancing restrictions of keeping people at least six feet apart.

“Eliminating that capacity restrictions will allow businesses the flexibility to adjust their specific operations accordingly, to best meet the needs of their employees and customers,” she said.

Reynolds said she made the decision to lift the restriction because the state’s testing capacity has greatly increased. And she said the number of positive COVID-19 cases has been trending downward for the past month.

She said Iowans over 65 and those with underlying health conditions should still stay home and avoid group settings.

11:11 a.m. – Public health experts recommend social distancing, masking at protests

Public health experts are still recommending that people practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But the death of George Floyd has sparked protests across the state sometimes attracting crowds numbering into the thousands.

Rachel Reimer is the Chair of the Department of Public Health at Des Moines University. She says people who chose to attend protests need to remember COVID-19 is still a public health threat.

“Going to events where the organizers have tried to delineate the physical space in some way is probably the best way to do it. And to limit your time there. So going and participating for a shorter amount of time will reduce your exposure,” she says.

Read more via IPR’s health reporter Natalie Krebs.

11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference

10:00 a.m. - 275 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period. 

Tuesday, June 9

5:47 p.m. – Bill affecting school spending on sport facilities advancing to floor of Iowa House of Representatives

A bill making it easier to force a vote on school spending on sports facilities is advancing to the floor of the Iowa House of Representatives. 

A version of the bill passed by the Senate last week would have acted retroactively. That would have allowed a group of petitioners to challenge the Des Moines school board’s decision to build a $20 million stadium with Drake University.

But the House Ways and Means committee has removed that language. Rep Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, supports the change. “Whether or not you agree or disagree with the outcome, we can’t and shouldn’t change the rules in the middle of the game.”

The bill would require 1,000 petition signatures to put a project on the ballot or 30 percent of the number who voted in the last school board election, whichever is less.

5:19 p.m. – Seven inmates in Woodbury County Jail test positive for COVID-19, officials expect more positive cases

The Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office found the seven cases after 10 inmates were tested before being moved into Iowa’s prison system. Two came back positive on Saturday, and a third on Sunday. An additional four were reported postive on Tuesday.

Chief Deputy Tony Wingert says the three inmates are in isolation. They are asymptomatic. “With that being in there, we decided that we were going to test the sections that were involved, and then Siouxland Community Health was nice enough to provide enough test kits for the whole population, so we went and tested the whole population.”

Wingert says 144 more inmates have been tested in the last couple of days. He’s expecting to get results back today and Wednesday.

2:02 p.m. – City of Coralville lifts nightly curfew starting tonight

The city of Coralville is lifting its nightly curfew, beginning Tuesday night. In a written statement, Mayor John Lundell said the lockdown was quote “effective in curbing violence” but that it’s no longer needed.

City officials put the curfew in place last Monday, following a confrontation between police and about 150 people outside of a mall, and acts of vandalism against some local businesses.

Lifting the curfew is one of the demands of the Iowa Freedom Riders, a group that’s been organizing Black Lives Matter protests in the Iowa City area. Polk and Scott Counties had previously lifted their curfews late last week.  

10:00 a.m. - 260 new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period. 

9:34 a.m. - Des Moines Black Lives Matter puts out a list of demands for the Iowa Legislature 

8:50 a.m. – Des Moines City Council gives first approval to ordinance prohibiting racial profiling by city police, advocates say it doesn’t go far enough

The Des Moines City Council gave first approval Monday night to an ordinance prohibiting racial profiling by city police. But the council held off on final approval after community activists requested more time to review the proposal.

Betty Andrews of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP says a coalition of groups negotiating the ordinance didn't see the final version until hours before the meeting.

She said the coalition wants more time to work on stronger accountability provisions, including investigations by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The current version leaves that up to the police department.

More than 1,000 people joined the council meeting on YouTube and Zoom. Public comments were cut short after a series of people disrupted the meeting by repeatedly using racist slurs.

The council voted, and approved the ordinance unanimously, but it will need at least one more round of approval to become law. Mayor Frank Cownie says he is willing to make more changes and wants feedback on the ordinance before final approval.

“With all of us coming together we’re gonna be able to move forward much more quickly and see some of the benefits to our citizens that so many are crying out for,” Cownie said.

The ordinance bans racial profiling and requires training on implicit bias and de-escalation. But community activists say it needs more to make police accountable. They want a community board to review police misconduct. They also want investigations and discipline taken out of the police department.

8:34 a.m. – Protest in Iowa City Monday remains peaceful

The Black Lives Matter protest in Iowa City Monday night was noticeably calmer, just one day after officers arrested a protest leader. Demonstrators marched and chanted throughout downtown, but organizers specifically kept the group away from area highways, and directed them to not graffiti.

An organizer who was giving instructions to the crowd, who declined to give her name, laid down the rules.

“We will not be marching to the interstate today. Just want to make that clear for everyone. In terms of…one other thing that…this is for your safety. And we don’t want you guys to be liable to arrest by the police department or the sheriff. So we please ask you guys to not spray paint,” she said.

There was also virtually no visible law enforcement presence along the march route, including in front of City Hall. Previously, the group had encountered officers in riot gear, which many protesters perceived as hostile.

Monday, June 8

2:12 p.m. – Leader of Iowa City protests held without bond after being arrested Sunday night

A leader of the Black Lives Matter protests in Iowa City is being held without bond after being arrested Sunday night. Mazin Mohamedali faces charges of unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct and a probation violation.

Attorney Rockne Cole says he’s working to get his client released as soon as possible so he can return to advocating for racial justice. “Our goal is to try to get him out as soon as possible so he can engage in principled, peaceful, nonviolent resistance. And that has been the focus of the group really from the start.”

Mohamedali has helped lead the group the Iowa Freedom Riders, which marched throughout Iowa City last week, calling for police reform while disrupting traffic and prompting partial closures of Interstate-80. The group issued a list of demands Sunday, including redirecting 25% of Iowa City Police Department funding to social services such as mental healthcare and drug treatment, as well as empowering the city’s community police review board." Some in the group have also left graffiti on sidewalks, businesses, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and Kinnick Stadium.

10:00 a.m. - 330 new COVID-19 cases Monday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period. 

6:00 a.m. - Des Moines City Council scheduled to vote on a new ordinance banning racial profiling by city police

Last week, Black Lives Matter organizers led a march to Mayor Frank Cownie’s house demanding that it be passed.After the protest, Cownie told reporters he expects the ordinance to pass, but community activists also want the city council to strengthen the current proposal.They want marijuana possession to be the lowest priority for Des Moines police. They also want mandatory data collection and a ban on pretextual stops where a minor violation is used to look for something more serious like drug possession.

Sunday, June 7

7:30 p.m. – Protesters in Cedar Rapids call for racial justice, police reform, and getting out the vote

Protesters in Cedar Rapids, like thousands across the county, have taken to the streets, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” Some in the city are also calling for specific reforms: a citizens’ review board of police, and a ban on the use of chokeholds, among other things.

Additionally, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker called on police officers across the state to not use tear gas against peaceful protesters. The effects of tear gas can be especially dangerous amid the covid-19 crisis, as the coronavirus is spread by respiratory droplets.  

Read more of this story from Kate Payne.

7:30 p.m. – George Floyd protests continued in Des Moines

Hundreds of people joined a non-violent march from the Wells Fargo Arena to the State Capitol carrying signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe.”

Speaking on the capitol steps, Lori Young of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement called on the Des Moines City Council to pass a ban on racial profiling by police officers.

The city council plans to vote on the ordinance Monday. Iowa CCI and other groups are pushing for more accountability measures in the proposal such as requiring data collection for all traffic stops.

7:30 p.m. - Iowa Senate Bill Could Limit Election Officials' Ability To Change Voting Process During Pandemic

The Iowa secretary of state would not be allowed to send applications for mail-in ballots to all registered voters under a bill advanced Friday by Republicans on a state senate committee.

Typically voters have to request a mail-in ballot application or find it online. For the June 2 primary election, Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate decided to send mail-in ballot request forms to all registered voters to promote voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. Iowa ended up setting a new record for primary election turnout in the state.

Read more of this story from Katarina Sostaric.

7:30 p.m. - Iowa House Republicans Approve Protections For Businesses Against Coronavirus Lawsuits

Iowa businesses and health care providers would have special protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits under a bill House Republicans passed Friday night.

Under the bill, Iowans wouldn’t be able to sue a business or health care facility unless they were hospitalized or died of COVID-19, or if an act was intended to cause harm or constitutes malice. It also says facilities will not be liable for civil damages related to coronavirus exposure unless they “recklessly disregard” a risk of exposure or intentionally expose someone to the virus.

Read more of this story from Katarina Sostaric.

3:53 p.m. - IDPH reports new COVID-19 cases

Tags: