The legislature adjourned for the year on Sunday, June 14. This year’s session was definitely different than previous years. Due to the onset of COVID-19, we adjourned midsession on March 16 and spent most of the adjournment trying to triage all of the outstanding bills and find an expedited way forward to quickly and safely return and close out the 88th General Assembly. While we didn’t get to all the legislation we wanted, we were still able to accomplish a lot in the time we did have. Of all the topics we were trying to handle coming back into session, one thing we didn’t anticipate was a tragic event in a Midwestern major metropolitan area.
On May 25, George Floyd was killed while in custody at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was subsequently charged with murder in the 2nd degree. What happened in Minneapolis was appalling and no law enforcement officer I’ve encountered condones the tactics used on Mr. Floyd. As a result of this incident, conversations concerning modern-day policing are taking place all across this country.
Upon returning to the Capitol, the governor, the Iowa House and Senate came together and in a bipartisan fashion passed into law HF 2467, a police reform bill to address some of the issues brought to the forefront by this national conversation. HF 2647 has four policy divisions. Division 1 empowers the attorney general to investigate a death caused by a law enforcement officer. Division 2 bans choke-holds by a law enforcement officer unless the officer is in a life-threatening situation. Division 3 prohibits officers with a proven record of misconduct from moving from one law enforcement agency to another, including an agency in a different city or state. Division 4 requires law enforcement agencies to provide annual training in de-escalation techniques and the prevention of bias in law enforcement.
Reforms to strengthen policing like these will be at the forefront of policymakers’ minds going into the next General Assembly, as well as looking at innovative ways to continue modernizing our criminal justice system. This reform must also include giving law enforcement the tools they need both to keep our communities and every citizen safe.
Unfortunately, in the last five weeks some of the opportunities for positive conversations to prevent events like Mr. Floyd’s death have turned into bad ideas, like the wholesale scrapping of law enforcement agencies and our overall criminal justice system. To be clear, many of these policy proposals are not new and are instead repackaged bad ideas that have repeatedly fizzled out over the years. In fact, some of these proposals, whether well intended or motivated purely as a ‘get out of jail free’ card, will further harm the very people and communities they purport to help. Those ideas have no business becoming part of Iowa’s public policy and need to be stopped.
The entire point of the criminal justice system is to protect the rights and property of every Iowa citizen. A fair criminal justice system is how governments retain the consent of the governed.
Unfortunately, the most glaring omission from these discussions of criminal justice reforms is any personal accountability for the persons who actually commit a crime. To blame police and the criminal justice system for all of the problems of those who encounter it is unfair. The largest age group of people arrested in the United States are between 18-25 years of age. Something has broken down in that individual’s life in the statistical 18 year average before he or she actually finds themselves in the criminal justice system. To blame law enforcement for or expect law enforcement to fix the result of a broken home life, poor education, drug abuse, or untreated mental illness suffered for years is unrealistic.
It is also important to keep in mind that while much of the recent attention is focused on the effects on the defendant, these defendants are often committing crimes against victims who are of similar economic status, race, and ethnicity. Victims also experience the same barriers and are unable to afford the consequences of a defendant’s acts, such as the loss of income for domestic abuse victims, the costs of on-going therapy for sexual abuse victims, the trauma suffered by victims of robbery, not to mention the immediate loss of income to victims of thefts, criminal mischief, and vandalism. With all due respect, those that violate the law must face consequences for those actions. The criminal justice system should be fair, but unpleasant. It shouldn’t be an affordable cost of doing business.
As a legislator, I must look at not only the effects on the defendant, but also at the entire criminal justice system and its burden on all citizens of Iowa, which includes the impact and costs to victims, taxpayers, and to society in general. There are huge societal costs created by each defendant’s criminal action and there must be deterrents to committing criminal offenses in the State of Iowa. There must NOT be an acceptance that crime is an acceptable part of life or acceptable way of living. Iowa has a great story to tell in how we have been modernizing our criminal justice systems over the last several years. In the coming weeks I look forward to continuing this conversation and giving more insight as to what we have been able to accomplish here in Iowa. I also look forward to talking about legislation we passed to keep moving Iowa forward.
As always, please feel free to contact me by phone or email if you have questions or comments.