WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) – Gov. Kim Reynolds enacted the “Back the Blue” bill Thursday morning, increasing penalties for illegal protesters and increasing qualified immunity for Iowa police officers.
Senate File 342 makes it a crime to be involved in a “riot” and makes it an aggravated offense to be involved in an “illegal assembly”. It also raises the protection of police officers to appear in court.
“This prevents courts in Iowa, especially the Iowa Supreme Court, from saying that the Iowa Constitution offers less protections than the United States Constitution,” civil rights lawyer said of Waterloo, Tom Frerichs. “I don’t think that for a practical aspect it changes much in terms of the ease or difficulty of bringing a lawsuit alleging a violation of your rights by the police.”
Qualified immunity protects individual police officers when prosecuted.
Officers will now be protected unless the claimant can prove that “any reasonable agent” would have known he was violating a clearly defined section of the law.
âThere has to be more than carelessness and has to be something that comes out of the wards core,â Frerichs said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be intentional, but it has to be recklessly indifferent to the rights of people before it reaches the level of being something someone can pursue.”
The new law makes riots a felony instead of a mere misdemeanor and increases the penalty for blocking streets and highways.
âLast summer, when lawless crowds across the country co-opted for peaceful protests for riots and looting, Iowa experienced its share of unrest,â the WHO said, Reynolds said. “So if you riot, if you loot, if you attack our police officers, then you have been punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Reynolds said the bill is about public safety and sends the message that Iowa supports its law enforcement officers.
Critics, including the Iowa Black Legislative Caucus and social justice advocates, said it would put more Iowans at risk. Last year, state lawmakers passed a law on police reform, outlawing police strangling and tackling officer misconduct.
Dereka Williams, who founded the Switching Places Foundation in Dubuque after George Floyd’s death, said the new law is a step backwards for police reform efforts.
âThey just pushed us back three or four, maybe five steps back now, from where we were when we were trying to make a change,â said Williams. âWhen the momentum was taken, everyone was for changing the laws. But now that it’s gone now. It’s like, okay, that’s what really, that’s what it is. is really, like, this is the real real government, this is the real governor.
After signing the bill, the WHO reports that Reynolds said there was room to reform the police and support the police in the state.
âThere is no reason the two cannot work together, that we do not continually seek ways to improve policing while supporting the men and women who, every day, selflessly and tirelessly walk through that door not knowing whether they’re going to come back or not, “Reynolds said.
At a press conference Thursday morning, members of the Iowa black legislative caucus expressed disappointment that Reynolds did not build on the momentum of last summer. Governor Reynolds originally promised to include a ban on racial profiling in legislation, but Republican lawmakers withdrew it from the bill.
âA year ago, the governor signed a law banning most strangulations and promised the people of Iowan that ‘this is not the end of our work, this is only the beginning’, said State Representative Ross Wilburn, who is also president. for the Iowa Democratic Party said. “We now know that this statement was a lie.”
Reynolds told reporters Thursday that she plans to introduce a bill to tackle racial profiling next year, but several Democrats are skeptical.
“This session, every opportunity existed for us to come together. We were not invited to the table,” said parliamentary minority leader Jennifer Konfrst, of D-Windsor Heights. “I don’t know why a promise she made now would be kept more than the promise she made last summer.”
Increased sanctions for riots and illegal gatherings will disproportionately affect black people in Iowa, according to an estimate from the non-partisan Iowa Legislative Services agency. When asked about the estimate after the bill was signed, Reynolds told reporters “don’t break the law, and it won’t apply to you.”
âWe know it’s a long process,â said Williams. “We need to take the necessary steps to make sure we treat people equally, we don’t target communities and just like not pass those laws that we know full well target a certain community.”
Representative Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, said she saw a noticeable change in tone and priority from Republicans on racial justice during the last legislative session.
“The attitude of trying to deliberately stop actions around the state that would promote racial rapprochement has been stopped,” she said. “It’s just a really negative and terrible tone of ‘we don’t want change’.”
Wilburn said he felt the governor added insult to injury by signing the bill days before June 17.