Gov. Kim Reynolds signs bipartisan police reform bill

A police reform bill was passed unanimously by the Iowa Senate and House Thursday. Legislators and activists are calling it a first step toward addressing systemic racism in the state justice system.


Katie Goodale

The Iowa State Capitol building is seen in Des Moines on April 9, 2019.

Caleb McCullough, Summer Editor

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bipartisan police reform bill Friday that bans most chokeholds, addresses police misconduct, and requires increased training for all law enforcement in Iowa. 

Surrounded by legislators and Des Moines Black Lives Matter activists on the steps of the Capitol in Des Moines, Reynolds said the bill was the first step toward addressing racial inequality in policing.

“This bill is a loud and resounding signal from the people of Iowa and its leaders that we are ready and willing to act,” she said. 

The bill moved rapidly through the Iowa Senate and House on Thursday, garnering unanimous support in both chambers. 

The bill bans the use of chokeholds by police in most instances, except when the person has used or threatened to use deadly force in committing a felony, or if the officer reasonably believes the person will use deadly force unless immediately apprehended.

The bill prohibits officers in Iowa who have been convicted of a felony, fired for misconduct, or who quit to avoid being fired for misconduct from being hired in another department in the state. 

It also requires annual de-escalation and implicit bias training for all law enforcement officers in the state and allows the Attorney General to conduct an investigation if a death occurs in an interaction with law enforcement. 

In an emotional speech during debate on the House floor Thursday, Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, thanked the activists from Des Moines Black Lives Matter, who were watching from the House Gallery, for leading discussions that brought the bill to fruition. 

“This is a first step to get to the end of the tunnel,” he said. “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…then we lose as a state.”

Matthew Bruce, 24, an organizer with Des Moines Black Lives Matter, said the bill was a good first step toward addressing systemic racism in criminal justice in Iowa. He said the most important part of the bill is preventing officers fired for misconduct from finding work in another department.

“That is probably the most important piece of legislation because one of the main aspects of the racist law enforcement system is that essentially racists are able to violate and violate in a city until they finally get caught, and they’ll just move to another community and keep it going,” he said.

Bruce said the bill addresses some of the activists’ concerns, but he said the group is pushing for more change during this legislative session. Two goals he mentioned are restoring voting rights to felons that have completed their sentences and decriminalizing marijuana. 

The group had a meeting with Reynolds Friday, Bruce said, where they urged her to restore voting rights to felons by executive order. 

“We’re going to try and get literally as much as we can done, so we’re just taking it day by day,” he said. “If you would have told me a week ago that we would have had this bill passed unanimously and moving on an executive order, I would have been skeptical, so anything looks like it’s possible right now.”

In 2005, Gov. Tom Vilsack signed an executive order restoring voting rights to felons that had served their sentences. The order was overturned by Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011.

Reynolds has made restoring voting rights to felons a goal of the current legislative session, but she has been reluctant to use an executive order because she has said a constitutional amendment will be more permanent. 

Dedric Doolin, the president of the Cedar Rapids branch of the NAACP, said the provisions in the bill are long overdue. He said the provision allowing the attorney general to investigate police-related deaths is important, but more training needs to be done in the judicial system because often prosecutors and judges operate with a racial bias. 

Doolin said the bill will need to be implemented on a local level to be effective. He said local departments and cities will need to enforce the changes and create ordinances to address them in their own departments. 

“Now it just needs to really be pushed on a local level, and it needs to be enforced,” he said. “One of the things about things that are in bills is that you can have laws, but they have to be enforced.”