DES MOINES, Iowa – On Thursday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed SF 342, the ‘Back the Blue Act,’ at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.
The legislation makes rioting a felony offense. It also increases penalties on a range of other behaviors such as assault with a laser, assaulting civilian employees of police and fire departments, damage or destruction to public property, and obstructing a public way to prevent lawful use by others as part of a riot or causing bodily injury.
It also codifies qualified immunity and increases due process protections for law enforcement. It also penalizes local governments who attempt to defund their law enforcement agencies.
“I made it clear in my Condition of the State Address that Iowa’s law enforcement will always have my respect, and I will always have their back,” Reynolds said. “Today’s bill embodies that commitment in a historic way. The public peace is too important, and the safety of our officers too precious, to tolerate destructive behavior.”
The bill also bans discrimination in the enforcement of the law. It establishes a process for citizens who believe their rights have been violated to file a complaint with the state Attorney General. It comes a year after Reynolds signed the More Perfect Union Act, which enacted significant reforms to policing and passed the Iowa Legislature unanimously in a single day.
“Today’s bill illustrates an important truth: there is no contradiction whatsoever between steadfast support for honorable and selfless law enforcement officers – the vast majority – and a commitment to improving law enforcement,” Reynolds added.
Some Senate Republicans weighed in on the bill signing.
“The 2021 Iowa Legislative Session was a historic success on many issues, ranging from tax relief, to broadband, to free speech protections,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said. “However, none of those policies matter without the protection of life and livelihoods of Iowans. Iowans depend on law enforcement to be there when they need them. Senate Republicans promised Iowans we would back the blue and with the governor’s signature today, we have kept our promise.”
State Senator Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, floor manager of SF 342, said, “Protecting and supporting law enforcement is one of the most important things we can do for Iowa. Not only does the signing of this bill into law put into a place a number of protections for the men and women protecting Iowa families and communities, but it punishes those who seek to damage and destroy property and the livelihoods of others. Law enforcement officers put their lives on the line each and every day for us, and they deserve to be protected.”
Some Democrats reacted negatively to the bill signing.
State Senator Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, compared the bill to how southern states responded to Civil Rights protests.
“This bill reminds me of the four-month prison sentence Martin Luther King Jr. received in 1960 for ‘participating’ in a sit-in,” he tweeted.
State Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, said that Reynolds lied after signing the More Perfect Union Act.
“One year ago, the Governor signed legislation that banned most choke-holds and made a promise to Iowans that ‘This is not the end of our work, it’s just the beginning.’ We now know that statement was a lie,” he said.
Reynolds also signed HF 708 at ILEA, a separate bill creating a law enforcement equipment fund in the Department of Public Safety. It was seeded with $5 million in this year’s budget.