Des Moines, IA – The Iowa Senate on Monday voted to strengthen qualified immunity protections for law enforcement officers to protect them from political “a slew of political actors out there that have decided in making kicking law enforcement in their teeth a hobby every day.”
Republicans who sponsored Iowa Senate File 476 said the legislation was needed to protect officers who take forceful action while doing their jobs, The Courier reported.
The bill’s sponsors said the proposed measure would clarify court rulings and provide “balance” in cases that lacked “clearly established” law at the time of an incident resulting in a claim against an officer, according to The Gazette.
“A responding officer in a high-pressure situation cannot hesitate or deliberate the intentions of the law for fear of a frivolous lawsuit,” Iowa State Senator Chris Cournoyer said.
“To be clear, this bill does not protect negligence, incompetence or officers who knowingly violate the law,” Cournoyer added. “This bill protects men and women who protect us who are acting in good faith to perform vital tasks that require split-second decisions in stressful circumstances.”
The proposed bill would put the burden on the plaintiff to show that the law enforcement officer violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right, according to The Gazette.
Additionally, under SF 476, the officer’s law enforcement agency would not be liable if the officer was found not to be liable under the new provision.
The proposed legislation would make it so a law enforcement officer would not be found liable in any action for damages in an individual capacity if Iowa law was not sufficiently clear so that the officer would have understood the conduct was a violation of the Constitution or any other law, or the law was not clearly established at the time of the incident giving rise to the claim against the officer, according to The Gazette.
The bill would further supplant any other law that would provide less protection to an officer, The Courier reported.
“We’re not here today to try to create something new,” Iowa State Senator Dan Dawson said. “We’re trying to preserve the current law of the land right now because there are a slew of political actors out there that have decided in making kicking law enforcement in their teeth a hobby every day.”
Democrats argued SF 476 solved nothing and the authors were “making a political point,” The Gazette reported.
They also that, if passed, the law would be nullified by the court because it is unconstitutional.
Democratic Iowa State Senator Nate Boulton called the bill “a symbolic gesture at best” and said lawmakers time would be better spent passing “all due care” language that was in a recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling, The Courier reported.
“The purpose of the legislative process is not to introduce unconstitutional legislation. It does no service to anyone to create a duty or an immunity that we have very clear instructional language from our courts to say that it is not applicable or enforceable,” Boulton said.
“We recognize that we have law enforcement officers that make split-second decisions in our streets and in our communities to achieve that objection,” he continued. “We also want to make that we have officer that have a qualified immunity that is enforceable, not one that adds less clarity to their jobs and frankly runs the risk of making our communities less safe as a result.”
SF 476 would also make some changes to the peace officers’ bill of rights and expand confidentiality of some information in law enforcement and judicial settings, according to The Gazette.
The move to bolster qualified immunity came one week after the U.S. House passed legislation to eliminate the doctrine.
Both the House and Senate also introduced the Eliminating Qualified Immunity Act.