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Iowa Lawmakers Fail To Advance Racial Profiling Ban Ahead Of Deadline

police car
Diego Parra
Republican lawmakers did not advance a proposal to ban racial profiling by law enforcement ahead of a key legislative deadline.

Republican lawmakers did not advance Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to ban racial profiling by law enforcement ahead of a key legislative deadline Thursday, but they did advance bills that give more protections to police.

Reynolds’ “Back the Blue Act” combined the anti-racial profiling legislation with provisions including punishing cities that reduce police funding, raising penalties for protest-related crimes, and creating a new crime of “bias-motivated harassment” of a police officer.

A Senate committee approved some of those proposals this week, while a House committee advanced a different pro-police bill ahead of the first “funnel” deadline for bills to be voted out of committees.

They did not advance anti-racial profiling legislation or any other significant criminal justice reforms.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, was asked why.

“In our conversations with law enforcement, it was going to be very difficult in how that would be implemented,” Grassley said. “Session doesn’t end when the first funnel ends. There’s going to be continued conversation around a lot of issues that may not have made it through the first funnel.”

Law enforcement representatives were included on a committee that developed recommendations for Reynolds’ anti-racial profiling legislation last year.

Asked if he had plans for any legislation that would help with progress on racial justice, Grassley said he was not aware of specific proposals from House Democrats.

Democrats in the Iowa Black Legislative Caucus held a news conference Thursday morning in which they called for action on anti-racial profiling legislation, expanding minority impact statements for legislative proposals, improving Black maternal health, and relaxing the state’s marijuana laws.

“The path for racial justice and racial equity is an uphill climb,” said Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo. “Though it seems in 2021 in Iowa, the hill is getting steeper. Instead of building on the progress made last year, Black History Month was marked with GOP legislation that’s taking us backwards.”

Last June, as Iowans took to the streets nightly to demand progress toward racial justice, the Iowa Legislature unanimously passed a police accountability bill. Reynolds signed it into law the next day. Smith, who proposed the original legislation and played a key role in getting it passed, said he has not been included in such discussions this legislative session.

This year, Republican lawmakers have considered legislation to ban the 1619 Project from schools, undermine voluntary diversity plans at five school districts, and ban certain forms ofdiversity and inclusion training at schools.

Smith called it “retaliation.”

“We’re used to seeing this regression when there’s any progress made toward social justice and equity,” Smith said. “And so we understand that the work before us is much, but it doesn’t change our perspective and our motivation to continue forward.”

Smith also called on Reynolds to veto any policing legislation that does not include a ban on racial profiling. Reynolds’ spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

In the Senate, Republicans advanced a bill that would deny most state funding to Iowa cities and counties that reduce their police budgets, with some exceptions.

“I think the objective here is that we want to make sure our communities are safe across Iowa, and there’s a lot of concerns with some of the movements across the nation with defunding police,” Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said last month.

A Senate committee also advanced a billthat would increase penalties for rioting and other protest-related offenses. Law enforcement would be required to detain people accused of those offenses for 24 hours.

“This piece of legislation isn’t going to make our community safer,” said Keenan Crow, a lobbyist for One Iowa. “And it isn’t going to make people respect law enforcement any more. It’s just going to further the divide that has already been created and further increase that level of distrust.”

The Iowa House strayed further from Reynolds’ proposal and advanced a bill that increases some protections for police.

“This is not the governor’s bill,” said Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota. “This is our bill. This is the Public Safety Committee in the House’s bill that is meant to support law enforcement.”

Klein said the provisions of the bill came from conversations with law enforcement officials. Some Democrats joined Republicans in voting for that proposal Thursday.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter