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Boon For Police, A Concern For Protesters: 'Back The Blue' Becomes Law In Iowa

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a policing bill into law Thursday at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.
Katarina Sostaric
IPR News
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a policing bill into law Thursday at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

The legislative fruits of 2020’s demonstrations against police violence offers more protection to police and harsher penalties for protest-related charges.

Flanked by law enforcement officers last week at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy in Johnston, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the legislative session’s ‘Back the Blue’ legislation.

“There were so many different versions and pieces that went through, but in the end it was mostly a party line vote at least in the House with just a few Democrats joining Republicans in support,” said Katerina Sostaric, Iowa Public Radio’s statehouse reporter.

As signed, the law adds “qualified immunity” language to Iowa Code. Due to a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court opinion, police have been immune to lawsuits alleging the violation of rights so long as they could prove they carried “all due care” conforming with the law. By comparison, the federal standard gave government officials like police immunity unless they violated a constitutional right. Iowa’s old standard allowed plaintiffs to succeed by proving the officer failed to act with reasonable care, even if no previous cases ruled the conduct was in violation of a particular right. That's according to the Des Moines Register.

Background: Reynolds signs law enhancing penalties for protest-related offenses, expanding police protections.

“Going back to 2018 after several decisions from the Iowa Supreme Court, they decided to make qualified immunity inconsistent with federal law,” said Skylar Limkemann, the general counsel for the Iowa State Fraternal Order of Police. “So what we've done with this bill is we've made it consistent, and now federal law is equal to state law.”

Former U.S. Attorney and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Roxanne Conlin criticized the move saying it will “almost certainly” be interpreted as complete immunity for police, for better and worse.

“I find it a cruel irony that this is what resulted from those protests,” Conlin said.

With the bill signed into law, host Ben Kieffer picks through the bill with stakeholders on this episode of River to River.


  • Katerina Sostaric, state government reporter, Iowa Public Radio
  • Mark Stringer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa
  • Roxanne Conlin, former U.S. Attorney and civil rights lawyer from Des Moines
  • Oleta Davis, president, Iowa State Fraternal Order of Police
  • Skylar Limkemann, general counsel, Iowa State Fraternal Order of Police
  • Charmaine Alexander, racial justice organizer from Des Moines
  • Justyn Lewis, racial justice organizer from Des Moines
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa