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Iowa Governor Signs Police Reforms Into Law; Activists Urge Her To Restore Felon Voting Rights

kim reynolds signs bill into law
Natalie Krebs
Gov. Kim Reynolds signs a police conduct bill into law surrounded by the Iowa Legislative Black Caucus, Republican and Democratic lawmakers and Black Lives Matter activists on Friday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law Friday a bill addressing police misconduct that Iowa lawmakers unanimously passed on Thursday.

She signed the bill as racial justice activists and black lawmakers held their fists high, chanted “Black lives matter,” and held a Black Power poster in the air.

Reynolds said George Floyd being killed by a Minneapolis police officer and the protests that followed “led to some genuine soul-searching.”

“It also reinforced the message of our African American brothers and sisters that injustice exists and is unacceptable in a free and great nation such as this,” Reynolds said.

The bill allows the state attorney general to prosecute law enforcement officers who cause a death, and it bans chokeholds except when there’s a threat of deadly force. The bill also prevents the re-hiring of officers who fired or quit due to misconduct, and it requires annual training about implicit bias and de-escalation techniques.

Reynolds said the bill is a first step toward systemic change.

“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,” Reynolds said. “This is just the beginning.”

Black Lives Matter activists celebrated by dancing on the Capitol steps after the bill signing.

They also started chanting, “Let them vote,” as the bill signing ceremony ended.

Black Lives Matter activists are putting pressure on Reynolds to sign an executive order to restore voting rights to Iowans with felony convictions.

A group of activists met with Reynolds Friday morning. They said she agreed to work on language for an executive order, and they’ll meet again on Monday.

Reynolds’ spokesperson did not respond when IPR asked him to confirm their description of the meeting.

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, who only wanted to provide her first name, was in the meeting. She said she agrees there needs to be a constitutional amendment to make felon voting rights restoration permanent.

“But also action needs to be taken now, which is the executive order,” Jassma’ray said. “We basically put a lot of pressure on her. We kept reiterating the fact that this needs to happen now. There’s an election coming up. People need to be able to vote.”

Protesters were at the Iowa Capitol all week pushing Reynolds and lawmakersto act on racial justice issues.

Jalesha, another activist who was in the meeting with the governor, said it’s bittersweet because these changes are long overdue.

“When it’s our lawmakers’ jobs to make sure that we can live and navigate the world justly and fairly, why do we have to show up here and continuously exhaust ourselves, exhaust our emotions, exhaust our voices, to make sure they do their job?” Jalesha asked.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter