Legal Director Rita Bettis (left) and Legislative Counsel Pete McRoberts confer with Rep. Beth Wessell-Kroeschell (D-Ames).


Each year, the ACLU of Iowa tracks more than 150 bills that could impact civil liberties in the Iowa Legislature. Now that the 2016 session has adjourned, it’s time to celebrate those bills that we worked hard to help pass and renew our resolve to overcome challenging legislation that was passed.

May 2016
Here are the highlights of civil liberties wins, toss-ups, and remaining challenges:


Passing the Crime Victims Right to Assistance Bill

No one should be penalized for calling 911, yet that’s exactly what some cities’ so-called “crime nuisance ordinances” do. These ordinances hit domestic violence victims especially hard, along with the poor, the elderly, and the mentally ill. All are people who may repeatedly have to call for emergency assistance. The bill now goes to the governor for approval or veto, but we are optimistic that it will become law. Learn more.

Blocking Attacks on Reproductive Freedom

Working with our allies at Planned Parenthood, we fought a constitutional amendment against abortion; “personhood” legislation that would equate abortion with murder; unreasonable restrictions to medication-induced abortions, and an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.

Sentencing and Criminal Justice Reform

Much, much more needs to be done to reduce racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system. Still, the passage of a bill that will result in shorter sentences for some Iowans convicted of non-violent drug offenses was an important baby step forward. Find out more
Another step forward in criminal justice reform: A new law makes most juvenile court records private from the public. This prevents youthful violations from following a person the rest of their lives, making it more difficult to secure jobs and other opportunities.

Warrantless Detainers 

We helped block a bill that would have required county sheriffs to comply with unconstitutional detainer requests in Iowa jails by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).


With other ACLU legislative priorities, we saw more mixed results.

Body Cameras to be Studied

Body cameras worn by police can be as win-win, but only when they are accompanied by strong, clear policies that balance police accountability and citizen privacy. We were hopeful for legislation that would require such policies. Instead, the The Iowa Senate discussed two bills, but decided more research was needed. Learn more.

Civil Forfeiture Laws Also Sent for Study

Law enforcement taking cash and other property from motorists and other individuals—simply by alleging that it may be part of a crime—must change. We supported legislation that would have modified current law and allow police to retain taken property only after a person has been convicted of certain felonies, but no legislation was passed. Instead, the Legislature decided this issue also needed further study. Find out more.


A number of bills that would have protected civil liberties did not make it through various legislative deadlines. We’ll continue to work on them next year:

  • Discriminatory policing/racial profiling Bills introduced were an important first step but insufficient. The ACLU looks forward next session to working on a bill that better ensures police treat all people fairly and equally.
  • Medical cannabis As part of Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis, the ACLU will continue to fight next year for better laws that make medical marijuana truly available to those who need it.
  • End-of-life choices For the first time, legislation on this crucial issue was introduced. We’ll be working with partner organizations and legislators to move forward with future legislation that respects an individual's choices and also protects the most vulnerable in our society--including the disabled and elderly--from pressure.
  • Driver’s licenses for all immigrants Other states have improved road safety and access for immigrants to critical services, such as doctors and schools, with visitor’s driver’s licenses for all immigrants regardless of status. This bill did not pass, but we’ll take up this issue again next session
  •  Ban the Box A major obstacle for Iowans leaving prison and successfully re-entering society is getting a job. This bill would prevent employers from asking about criminal convictions on applications and eliminating strong candidates even before employers can find out more. Instead, employers could ask about criminal convictions later, including during the job interview. 
  • Pregnant employee accommodations This bill would have required Iowa employers to make “reasonable” accommodations for pregnant workers.
  • No DOT ID for online voting registration The ACLU endorses online voter registration, but objects to requiring those using it to produce an Department of Transportation ID. Somewhere between 9 and 11 percent of Iowans (usually elderly, disabled, or low-income) do not have driver’s licenses or similar IDs.