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I back the blue

We are entering what is scheduled as the last week of the legislature. This is the week when we will debate and vote on budgets and other bills. Many of the budget bills are large and involved with millions of dollars appropriated. Also at this time of the session, many things can get added to a bill and my vote becomes an all or nothing.

A little over a week ago, a bill was debated and voted on in the legislature (HF 698/SF 342) called Officer Disciplinary Actions. This was nicknamed the “Back the Blue” bill. The floor manager of the bill stated in his opening remarks that if you did not vote yes on this bill that you did not support law enforcement. I voted against the bill.

I am a huge supporter of law enforcement. I think I demonstrated that during my time on the Marshalltown City Council as we funded requests to support our officers. I have an incredible respect for those who take on this incredibly difficult job. I value their service and the service of all in this work.

My issue with the Officer Disciplinary Actions/Public Safety Omnibus bill is that public safety is not about law enforcement or justice, it is about both. The bill as it was presented was pitting one against the other. There were supports for law enforcement such as qualified immunity to protect good officers and sick pay conversation to pay for insurance after retirement. But there were also increased penalties and new crimes created that I believe will impact a person’s right of free speech. I do not support violence in rioting, but I believe these increased penalties will prevent people from peaceful demonstrations which they have a right to do. We must continue to build and maintain trust with our communities while we support our peace officers.

Our caucus presented amendments that separated out many of the conflicting pieces while keeping the support to peace officers. These were not even discussed. I read Speaker of the House Grassley has stated he does not think this bill will be “fast- tracked” for passage. He stated there was still work to do.

I would hope some additional changes could be made to the bill that will not only benefit peace officers but also address some of the issues of data collection to help us understand how we deal with minorities and to not criminalize nonviolent protests.

I lost sleep over this bill. I am very thankful for the relationships and the trust that have been nurtured between law enforcement and our community. I want us to continue to find common ground and trust with our community members.

This has been an emotional week for me and I am sure for others in our community with the George Floyd verdict, the burial of our own state trooper and other officer-related shootings around the country. I support all our law enforcement officers and will continue to do so even as I voted no on this bill. I appreciate the efforts of law enforcement and the administration to train officers and work with our community members. We must continue efforts to build and maintain trust in our community.

Law enforcement and justice must work together. Please stay safe.

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Sue Cahill is the state representative for District 71. Contact her at Sue.Cahill@legis.iowa.gov

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