A bill that boosts the penalty for interfering with law enforcement activities has cleared the Iowa House, over the objections of more than a dozen lawmakers. About three percent of Iowans are African Americans, but Democratic Representative Mary Wolfe of Clinton says last year in Iowa 27 percent of the people who were convicted of interferance with official acts were black. “Until somebody can tell me why it is that such an extremely disproportionate number of African Americans are convicted of interference with official acts, I am not comfortable voting yes for a bill that creates a new and much broader crime of interference with official acts,” Wolfe says.
The bill increases the penalty for someone who, for example, injures a police officer who’s making an arrest. Representative Rick Olson, a Democrat from Des Moines, says the bill goes another step too far. “The defendant doesn’t have to inflict the injury,” Olson said. “He doesn’t have to cause the injury. It’s just that the clumsy cop causes his own injury, but yet the penalty is enhanced.” Representative Deborah Berry, a Democrat from Waterloo, says if the bill becomes law, it will have a “tremendous impact” on Iowa’s minorities. “This particular bill — we’re going to see an additional burden on our state prisons by it,” Berry said.
Representative Ako Abdul-Samad, a Democrat from Des Moines, says “racism still does exist in the state of Iowa.” “It’s a ‘Catch 22’ for a lot of us. I know it is for me, because I support my law enforcement officers,” Abdul-Samad said. “I support the work that the police officers do…but I also have to look at the reality of Iowa.” Representative Gary Worthan, a Republican from Storm Lake, responded. “We can’t solve race problems by backing away from what we see as a crime.” Worthan says he’s not willing to abandon the bill because of a minority impact statement. “The law should be blind as to race, color, creed, religion and minority impact statements in my mind’s eye basically remove the blindfold from ‘Lady Justice,’ who holds the scales,” Worthan said. “…If it’s a crime, it’s a crime whether you’re white, black, red, yellow or whatever.”
The bill also adds removal of an officer’s communications device to the list of actions considered to be interference with official acts. Worthan says it applies to the communications devices used by police and by prison staff. “Members of law enforcement will tell you in this day and age, that communications device is their lifeline,” Worthan says. “Without that, they are out there on their own, with no back-up, so we need to move this forward.”
The bill passed the House Wednesday on a 77-to-17 vote. The bill passed the Senate April 1st by a unanimous vote. It now goes to the governor for his consideration.