Bills related to law enforcement have gone through many changes in discussions between the majority party in the House and Senate. Democrats were not at the table to assist in making the bills meaningful to law enforcement and the public. I support our law enforcement officers and have worked with them on behalf of crime victims for decades.
SF342 passed the House on April 14, is a wide-ranging bill that strengthens benefits and protections for law enforcement. It also creates new crimes and raises penalties for protest-related offenses.
Meaningful sections of the bill relate to officer safety, retirement, and health benefits. Worker Compensation for officers is enhanced. Accrued sick leave could be used to pay for medical coverage after retirement. Law enforcement, prosecutors, and judicial officers could keep their home addresses confidential. Assaulting a civilian police employee would carry the same penalties as assaulting officers. An officer would be better protected when complaints are fraudulent or fabricated. And, pointing a laser at an officer “to cause pain or injury” would be an assault.
Limited qualified immunity is necessary for public servants to do their jobs without constantly second-guessing themselves. But the standard in this bill is so broad it protects the worst offenders. The proposed new definition of “qualified immunity” matches the federal standard of “clearly established constitutional right” which is being challenged by conservatives and liberals alike as too extensive. The Iowa standard of “all due care,” was set by the Iowa Supreme Court in a 2018 case. The Iowa Court specifically rejected the “clearly established constitutional right” standard.
There are new crimes and penalties in the bill for protesters. Defacing public property becomes felony criminal mischief. Rioting is raised to a felony. Presence during a riot becomes felony disorderly conduct. Unlawful assembly is raised to an aggravated misdemeanor and expanded to include being at a lawful gathering and staying after the gathering becomes unlawful. These penalties do nothing to stop protests or protecting the police. They will further penalize people attending and will have a disproportional effect on people of color.
Immunity from civil suit is created for a motorist who injures a protester by driving a car into a group if there isn’t a permit for the protest. A driver can plow through people exercising their Constitutional rights to assemble and to protest. And, how will the driver know if there is a permit?
Unrelated to public protests, the crime of eluding police is expanded to include failing to stop for an unmarked law enforcement vehicle. A person could be charged with eluding if they don’t pull over for an unmarked car with a non-uniformed officer. This is a safety concern for women and minorities. I see no justification for this new requirement in law. Because of the serious flaws in this bill, I voted no.