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Condition of the State: Reynolds proposal aims to improve social justice, defend law enforcement
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Condition of the State: Reynolds proposal aims to improve social justice, defend law enforcement

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DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, during her condition of the state address Tuesday, pledged to further the cause of social justice while also protecting Iowa’s law enforcement officers.

In a change to the usual format, Reynolds delivered the annual address Tuesday night. Typically, the address is given during the day.

Reynolds’ address, delivered per usual from the House chamber at the Iowa State Capitol, was packed with content: in addition to praising Iowans’ responses during a trying year, the governor made multiple, significant policy and financial proposals.

Perhaps no more significant was Reynolds’ pledge to introduce legislation that she said promotes social justice and protects law enforcement officials. Reynolds said the legislation will propose a ban on racial profiling by police, and also defines punishments for anyone who participates in a riot or attacks law enforcement officers.

“I’ll be introducing a bill that protects law enforcement and continues our march toward racial justice,” Reynolds said, according to her prepared remarks. “The bill will make clear that if you riot or attack our men and women in uniform, you will be punished. We won’t stand for it. The bill will also ban racial profiling and other forms of disparate treatment. Because no actions should ever be taken based upon the color of someone’s skin. As Martin Luther King Jr. recognized, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”

In 2020, Reynolds and state lawmakers approved a social justice legislation shortly after the death of a Minnesota man who died in police custody, which sparked civil unrest and another national discussion about social justice and the use of police force.

The legislation approved last year banned the use of police choke holds, with some exceptions; required de-escalation and bias training for police; banned hiring officers who have been fired for misconduct or for using excessive force; and cleared the state attorney general to investigate cases when an officer’s actions resulted in an individual’s death.

Reynolds said policy makers should always be willing to discuss ways to improve policing, but that she will not participate in any efforts to defund law enforcement agencies, a reference to a rallying cry that emerged from some of last year’s protests.

“That’s not going to happen in Iowa. Not on my watch,” Reynolds said. “We should never be afraid to talk about ways to improve policing, but there will be no talk of defunding the police here. Our men and women in blue will always have my respect, and I will always have their back.”

During the address, Reynolds also made a nearly half-billion-dollar pledge when she called on state lawmakers to establish the goal of getting affordable, high-speed broadband internet access to all corners of Iowa over the next four years.

Reynolds proposed $450 million in state funding over the next four years to achieve the goal. She predicted the state funding would attract “millions more” in private investment.

“I’m done taking small steps and hoping for big change. This is the time for bold action and leadership. Let’s plant a stake in the ground and declare that every part of Iowa will have affordable, high-speed broadband by 2025,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced more workers to work and students to learn from home, highlighted what was already widely acknowledged to be an area of need. She said roughly a third of Iowa’s 99 counties are classified as broadband deserts, where high-speed internet is rarely offered, and that Iowa has the second-lowest broadband speeds in the country. She also said that often when high-speed internet is available, it is expensive.

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“As we’ve seen during the pandemic, high-speed internet is as vital to our communities as running water and electricity. If they don’t have it, they can’t grow,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds also made multiple policy proposals for K-12 education, including a requirement that districts give students and families the option for 100% in-person instruction; a requirement that all districts permit open enrollment; state funding to a fund that families could use to pay for private school tuition; and the creation of charter public schools, which operate free of state education guidelines.

“Make no mistake, it’s imperative that we have a strong public school system — which is why we have and will continue to prioritize school funding while many other states are cutting their education budgets,” Reynolds said. “But school choice isn’t a zero sum game. It has the potential to raise the quality for all schools. And for those schools that do fall behind, it ensures our children don’t fall with them. Let’s work together to make sure every child receives a quality education, regardless of income, and no matter their zip code.”

Reynolds also proposed a $28 million investment in creating more access to affordable child care. Of that investment, $3 million would go to a program that supports public-private partnerships to create child care facilities, and $25 million would go to child care development block grants that are designed to promote child care start-ups.

“Let’s remove the obstacles to high-quality, affordable child care so that Iowa families can nurture their kids while parents maintain the maximum freedom to enter and remain in the workforce,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds began her remarks by chronicling the challenging year that was 2020. She noted the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, and natural disasters. And she highlighted stories of Iowans who helped others during those uncertain times.

“We’ve been beaten and battered in about every way imaginable and some unimaginable. But together, we’ve met every challenge with bravery and outright grit,” Reynolds said. “We’re told that tribulation produces perseverance and perseverance, character. From what I’ve seen, there’s no shortage of character in the people of Iowa. And despite what we’ve been through — or maybe because of it — the condition of our state has never been stronger.”

While she praised Iowans from many sectors, Reynolds was particularly effusive in her praise of the state’s health care workers.

“In 2020, you worked some of the longest hours, in the most uncertain conditions. Your actions saved lives. Your spirit inspired us,” Reynolds said. “And you didn’t just provide medical care. Your patients often couldn’t be with their loved ones, so you also provided them comfort and company. You sat with them when no one else could. You held their hand, facilitated calls to family, and in some cases stood by them while they took their last breath. While many of us were shielded from the worst of the pandemic, you were on the front lines every day. We cannot sufficiently express our gratitude, but we will try.”

At one point during her remarks, Reynolds called for a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19.

More than 4,200 Iowans have died during the global pandemic since March of 2020. Nearly 380,000 people in the United States have died from the disease.

After the address, Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, of Charles City, said during an interview with Iowa PBS that Democrats look forward to working with the governor and Republican legislative majorities on the governor’s social justice and police safety proposal.

However, Prichard said Reynolds’ K-12 education plans could be viewed as “warfare with our public schools.” He called the requirement of a 100% in-person learning option a one-size-fits-all approach that will not work for some districts, and said he fears any state funding dedicated for private school tuition will inevitably come at the expense of public school funding.

“We want to see schools return to 100% in-person instruction. Who doesn’t want to see that? But we want to make sure that it’s done safely,” Prichard said. “(Reynolds) simply saying from Des Moines, ‘This is how schools are going to handle it,’ … I don’t think that’s good policy, and I don’t think that’s appropriate for every district.”

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