It will be another difficult session, but we’re ready with a number of bills we’ll be pushing forward or preparing to block.

The 2017 legislative session was a tough one for civil liberties. But the ACLU of Iowa was up for the challenge, so there were significant wins, too. Once again, with the 2018 session that runs January through April, we are ready to fight harmful bills and push bills that protect civil liberties.

Legislation We Support

Civil asset forfeiture reform

Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize cash and other assets from motorists and individuals, in many cases without a conviction, and in some cases, without even an arrest. 

We made progress last session with legislation that reduced some of the harms of civil asset forfeiture. That included requiring a criminal conviction before law enforcement can seize amounts of $5,000 or more. However, we’d like to see that taken further so that a conviction is required when seizing any amount. 

Legislation must also change the law so that the profit incentive for law enforcement is removed. Right now, for example, a sheriff’s office or police department directly seizing cash can keep a portion of it. 

Pregnant Workers Rights Act

One of our major efforts this session will be to pass a Pregnant Workers Rights’ Act. This bill addresses changes in Iowa law a few years ago that removed some protections for pregnant workers in the workplace. 

This legislation, which has bipartisan support, would restore once again a clear, modest, common-sense rule for employers. The legislation requests merely that employers provide “reasonable accommodations” that do not put an undue burden on employers. 

Most responsible Iowa employers already do these things—such as accommodating limits on lifting or time off for necessary doctor appointments or providing a stool for pregnant women to sit on. 

But a few bad players have made the law necessary to protect the health of Iowa women and their pregnancies.

Legislation to combat racial profiling

Last session a bill was introduced to ban racial profiling in Iowa, but it didn’t go anywhere. This year, we’ll be working with partner organizations to push forward another racial profiling bill. In particular, we’d like to see legislation that 

  • Bans racial profiling by law enforcement. 
  • Requires law enforcement to collect data on pedestrian and vehicular stops, including perceived race and ethnicity of the person who is stopped and to report aggregate data.
  • Requires all law enforcement to complete anti-racial profiling training and training on data collection and reporting. 
  • Allows a person who is subjected to profiling to sue in court or file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. 

Restoring voting rights for people with a felony in their background

Iowa, shamefully, remains just one of three states that automatically bans for life anyone convicted of a felony from voting. Restoring that right is currently arduous and often requires a lawyer’s assistance.

It’s also a racial equality issue: More than 50,000 Iowans—a disproportionate number of whom are African-Americans—remain unable to vote and therefore participate fully in their communities.

The ACLU will continue to work with Iowa legislators for changes in the law. That includes continuing to press for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution, a heavy lift that requires approval by two successive General Assemblies followed by ratification by voters.

Legislation We’ll Push Back On

Misnamed “religious freedom” legislation

The ACLU of Iowa was successful in blocking a misnamed “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) bill that would have given businesses a license to discriminate. The bill would have allowed for discrimination based on religion beliefs, including turning away visitors or customers based on sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and more. 

We will continue to fight any more RFRA-style bills in Iowa. We’re heartened to see that leading Iowa businesses have come down solidly against them because they know it’s bad for business and our state’s ability to attract and retain top employers.

The death penalty

Iowa simply should not go back half a century to an era when people were executed at the hands of our government. It was a system filled with injustices, and in some cases, innocent people were put to death.

Death penalty legislation was introduced last session, but fortunately didn’t go anywhere. But legislators have promised to push that bill again this session. 

The ACLU of Iowa will, of course, fight any such legislation every step of the way. 

Bills to restrict reproductive rights and women’s abortion rights 

There will almost certainly be a host of anti-abortion bills, including a “personhood” bill again this session. This extremist bill would grant legal rights to fertilized eggs and make any abortions illegal, as well as some commonly used birth control methods.

Along with our allies, including Planned Parenthood, we will continue to fight these bills. We are optimistic that we will be able to block the personhood bill. And even if it were passed, it would likely be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional.      

Meanwhile, we continue to press forward in the Iowa Supreme Court on the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. That lawsuit contests two major provisions of Iowa’s new abortion law. The first is a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. The second is a medically unnecessary second clinic in order to obtain an abortion.

Those provisions are simply obstacles to block women—especially those who don’t have reliable transportation, flexible work schedules, or must drive long distances—from accessing legal abortions. 

Anti-immigrant legislation

Some legislators have made it clear that they plan to push legislation that targets immigrants. One issue that is already on our radar is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “detainers,” which wrongly keep people in jail longer without a judge’s authorization. (ICE is one of the primary federal agencies that enforces immigration law.)

ICE has been pressuring Iowa county jails to hold people longer than authorized by a judge so that federal agents can take their time to find out if that person might also be in this country without authorization. 

These detainers, as they are called, are requests from ICE; they are not warrants. In some cases, U.S. citizens have been detained in jail for days, simply because they were suspected of being undocumented. In one case, in another state, the ACLU successfully represented a woman who was a citizen yet was detained by ICE. 

In Iowa, a number of Iowa sheriffs, correctly, have refused to comply with the ICE detainer requests. 

So now some legislators want to force law enforcement’s hand by requiring them to violate individuals’ due process rights and keep them in jail on the whim of ICE, rather than because a judge authorized it.

School vouchers

This session we’ll continue to fight against school vouchers. Not only are school vouchers bad for public schools, but they underwrite private schools, which unlike public schools, can legally discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics.

Our Team Is Ready

ACLU of Iowa Policy Director Daniel Zeno will be leading our legislative team. Pete McRoberts, a seasoned, long-time contract lobbyist who knows the Iowa political scene inside and out, will be helping us out once again. In addition, our new Community Engagement Associate will be working to better connect us with groups and individuals across the state to advance our legislative agenda. Our communications staff will also be on hand to livestream, tweet, and post the latest developments. And our Executive Director Mark Stringer will there for his first legislative session with us, ready to meet with key legislators and policymakers to articulate our positions. 

We’re ready.