Following the Democrats vote to block debate on the JUSTICE Act, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst today continued her call for the Senate to follow Iowa’s lead and pass commonsense police reforms to keep communities safe. Ernst noted that in Iowa, both Democrats and Republicans acknowledged their police reform bill wasn’t perfect, but agreed it was a good first step towards addressing the issues facing our country.
Senator Ernst’s full remarks are below:
“The murder of George Floyd captured the attention and emotions of the entire world.
“In the weeks that have followed, folks around the world have been crying out for a change…an end to racial inequality and the beginning of a new era of justice, understanding, and healing.
“While sometimes uncomfortable, this conversation is much needed and, in my opinion, it is long overdue.
“And folks, it should not have taken the loss of a life for us to begin to talk and to listen and to learn.
“I grew up in a predominately white community, but as a young woman, I was blessed—truly blessed—to live, learn, and work in communities that were rich in diversity.
“It is difficult to understand the unfairness someone faces due to their skin color. But, we can make time to listen.
“I did this last week when I sat down with our own Senate Chaplain, Barry Black.
“For those who do not know him, Chaplain Black is a remarkable and inspiring person.
“After serving over twenty-seven years in the United States Navy, he now serves as a spiritual guide for senators and opens our proceedings every day with a thoughtful prayer.
“One of my favorite things he told me was about a lesson his mother had taught him. She told him that God gave us two ears, two eyes. but only one mouth… and we should use them proportionally.
“I believe the United States is by far the greatest country in the world, but that does not mean we don’t have past, and current, issues that we need to address.
“And let’s be frank, it was not a single, isolated event – the murder of Mr. Floyd – that incited the raw emotions that are still burning weeks later.
“In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a historic police reform bill which will add additional accountability for law enforcement.
“This will benefit both the community and the police.
“And folks, here’s what’s remarkable about this new law: partisanship wasn’t a factor.
“Republican House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl and Democratic Representative Ako Abdul-Samad—two of the extraordinary leaders that ushered this bill through the House, and through our legislature—spoke with me this morning. And they said, both of them said, while they don’t each of them view this as a perfect bill, it was more than cosmetic. It had real meaning and depth. And it was a first step—a first step.
“And I agreed with them because any journey starts with a single step—a meaningful step.
“The bill passed the Iowa House by a vote, again with these two extraordinary leaders, by a vote of 98 to 0—unanimous.
“It then went to the Iowa Senate and it passed in the Iowa Senate 49 to 0.
“Partisanship wasn’t a factor. The only thing that mattered was doing the right thing.
“So not a single dissenting vote was cast, and it even had the endorsement of the Iowa Police Officers Association.
“We are only going to improve as a nation if we come together—together—and make everyone part of the solution. We can do that.
“Iowa put politics aside and got it done…and I wish we could see more of Iowa in this chamber.
“We need both sides of the aisle to unite and to pass Senator Tim Scott’s JUSTICE Act.
“The JUSTICE Act offers real solutions to police reform by increasing oversight, strengthening incident report requirements, and ensuring the correct use of body cameras.
“And it includes an issue that I’ve been working to address, sexual misconduct within our law enforcement.
“The JUSTICE Act is simply a common sense approach to effective police reform.
“The bill includes a number of bipartisan provisions, including the anti-lynching proposal put forward by Senators John Cornyn and Kamala Harris.
“It’s heartbreaking that the bill to address these issues was blocked by Senate Democrats.
“The Senate exists so we can debate these issues in a civil manner and reach a consensus so they aren’t resolved in the streets.
“We can’t do that if the other side chooses to shut down meaningful debate or give in to radical ideas like defunding the police, which won’t solve the problem of inequality or end violence.
“So I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle…are you willing to come to the table…are you willing to accept that amendment process…are you willing to take that first? The first step in our journey.
“Will you put politics aside and help us enact reforms to ensure the safety of our communities?”
“Our nation’s journey towards becoming a more perfect Union and securing the blessings of liberty for all Americans has taken a long and bumpy road and we still have a lot further to go. It starts with that one step.
“But at this moment, the country and the world are demanding we pick up the stride.
“Let’s follow Iowa’s lead. Let’s come together and take meaningful action.
“And to be clear, the passage of a single bill is not going to suddenly reverse centuries of injustice.
“Passing laws are a simple part. If we really want to change behavior, we need to commit ourselves to changing hearts.
“The best way we can personally commemorate the life of George Floyd and the many others before him who lost their lives or suffered injustice, is to open our own hearts.
“Chaplain Black summed up the solution best when he quoted to me Mark 12:31 “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“It’s both that simple and that challenging.”
“So I’m asking all of us in this body to be more like Iowa. Let’s find that solution, let’s take that first step, and begin our journey together.”