DES MOINES, Iowa – On Thursday, the Iowa Legislature unanimously passed a police reform bill, HF 2647, that addresses police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests. 

The bill was introduced, passed in each chamber’s judiciary committee, and passed all in the same day. The Iowa House passed the bill 98 to 0, and then the Iowa Senate swapped their version of the bill with the House version and passed it 49 to 0.

During the debate in both chambers, numerous speakers emphasized that this bill represents the first step in reforming the system.

HF 2647 does four things:

First, it gives the Attorney General the authority to prosecute law enforcement officers (LEO) when police misconduct occurs, regardless of whether a county prosecutor requests assistance or not. 

Second, it limits the use of chokeholds by LEOs when making a lawful arrest. It can only be used when a person can not be captured any other way, and either of the following circumstances exists:

  • The person an LEO is lawfully arresting “has used or threatened to use deadly force in committing a felony.”
  • The LEO “reasonably believes the person would use deadly force against any person unless immediately apprehended.”

Third, the bill prevents LEOs with proven misconduct to move from agency to agency. It also outlines circumstances for when the certification council to revoke LEOs and reserve LEOs certification in the state.

Fourth, HF 2647 requires law enforcement agencies to provide annual training on de-escalation techniques and the prevention of bias.

“This is just the first step in an ongoing process that’s going to require continued listening and most importantly, continued respect and friendship,” State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, the floor manager of the bill in the House, said.

State Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, noted that while the House was not able to accomplish a racial profiling ban he hoped to see progress was made.

“The gains that we’ve made today speak loudly,” he said. “This body in 10 days, through hard work and critical conversations, we’re able to make significant steps in addressing historic injustices in our country.”

State Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf, pointed to a historic moment in Iowa.

“Iowa as a population of 3.4 (percent) African Americans in this moment, we are witnessing this first step to equality and justice,” she said.

State Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, said the House can’t just stop with police reform.

“After we adjourn, end this particular session, it has to continue on towards other parts of criminal justice reform for some who are disenfranchised criminal justice reform, our justice efforts can’t be just directed at just us. It’s gotta be all of us in order to be fair. And then we can continue that movement and that march towards addressing some of the underlying conditions that had been behind all this system accumulation of things,” he said.

“So this is another invitation. Not just to get rid of bad actors, or criminals that has been referred to that get into law enforcement, but for humane and human treatment for all of us,” Wilburn added.

State Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, pointed to how God can bring good out of a bad situation.

“Sometimes the Lord chooses us for special things. I’m not necessarily saying that the Lord chose George Floyd to die, thus good things would happen. But if you’re a Christian as I am, you have to consider that his death and what has happened and is happening since then is food for thought,” she said.

“Too long have black men and women been persecuted by the police. Too long have black mothers waited for their sons to come home to only find out that they’ve been killed in the street. Too long have children waited for their black fathers finding out that they would never come home. When will it end? George Floyd has become a special person in depth because he, as a symbol of life is saying we won’t have to wait any more. The time is now,” Gaines stated.

Speaker Pro Tem Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, commended the work that State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, did to listen to those protesting the first weekend after George Floyd’s death attempting to maintain peace. He said that prompted him to work with Speaker Pat Grassley and Minority Leader Todd Pritchard, D-Charles City, to work on legislation.

“Is this a solution to every problem that we have to every injustice? No. But it’s damn good start. And we can move forward from here. And we can do so united as Iowans, regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, we can move together as people who care about one another and want the best for our fellow man,” he said.

Abdul-Samad pointed out the history of black people in the United States.

“What makes this (bill) historical is that we’re righting a historical wrong. We are going to address a wrong that has happened for over 400 years,” he said.

Abdul-Samad noted that change will take time. “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And we must be able to run this marathon together. And if any of us drop out at this marathon and we quit listening to these young people, we quit listening to one another, we quit learning from one another, then we lose as a state,” he said.

He stated Iowa has a chance to make history.

“We are going to bring it to a reality and we’re going to bring it to fruition because we are Iowa and we are Iowans and we’re going to make it happen with all of us together. We refuse to be defeated. We refuse to let people talk about how we can’t come together,” Abdul-Samad exclaimed.

Listen below:

Debate went longer in the Iowa Senate.

“Unequal treatment of minorities by some members of law enforcement has not been a problem that has emerged over the last 2 weeks, or 2 month or 2 years. It has been with us for generations,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said during his opening remarks for the bill.

A failure of action has afflicted not only Republicans majorities in the chamber, this state, and this country but Democrat majorities as well. In light of recent events and the history of this issue, it is time to move forward on policies to improve the treatment of minorities and take steps to address incidents of law enforcement officers infringing on the constitutional rights of minorities,” he added.

Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, had a more partisan tone.

“Iowans are coming together, as we’ve never seen before, every day to say enough is enough. Senate Democrats support the bill before us tonight because it takes the first step in advancing equality and justice in our state. We know that there is so much more work to be done here in Iowa. Senate Democrats pledge to continue working to end racial profiling and enact criminal justice reforms and expand voting rights,” she said.

“.We also need to address racial disparities in health care. I know Iowans are very concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on our Iowans of color, as well as maternal health and pregnancy laws. We need to address income and educational inequality and much more. Iowans are calling for social and racial justice. Senate Democrats are ready to make that a reality and we’re so happy to make a first step tonight in a bipartisan fashion,” Petersen added.

Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, commented on the bill after it passed in the Iowa Senate.

“I am proud to see the Senate pass this legislation and take a step toward improving relationships between minorities and law enforcement in Iowa. House File 2647 is a great example of how change can come from listening to each other and working together to find real solutions to the problems facing our state. While this bill is one step in the right direction, there is still work each and every one of us has to do to make sure everybody is treated equally in our home state,” he said in a released statement.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, who was present in both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate chambers, during debate is expected to sign the bill.

“In Iowa, we know how to sit down at the table, listen to each other and work together to move forward. Over the past several days, leaders of the Iowa legislature came together with shared goals and a commitment for action,” she said in a released statement.

“These problems didn’t arise overnight and they won’t be fixed in a day. We are just getting started, but our work together shows Iowa is willing to have the tough conversations and to look past our differences to find common ground and a brighter future for all Iowans,” Reynolds added.

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