The Iowa Legislative Black Caucus, led by Rep. Ras Smith, has issued a response to Gov. Kim Reynolds, calling on her to put forward anti-racial profiling legislation, and to veto legislation that has been stripped of that language that she’s currently considering.
Smith started the conference with this statement: “The path to racial equality is an uphill climb. Though it seems in 2021 in Iowa, the hill is getting steeper. Instead of building upon the progress made last year, Black History Month was marked with GOP legislation that is taking Iowa backwards…”
Those steps include the elimination of voluntary diversity plans in schools, attempts to ban the 1619 Project from Iowa curriculum and “Back the Blue” legislation that would protect police from “bias-related crimes” like harassment, harm and property damage.
Smith said these measures fly in the face of efforts to protect and empower Iowa’s people of color, especially since Black leadership hasn’t had much involvement with new policing bills now leaving committees in the legislature.
“Once, last summer, when the Black Caucus brought forth our work with The Plan for a More Perfect Union, we brought that to the table and the governor delayed including the anti-racial profiling language,” Smith said.
He said Reynolds still hasn’t brought that language, despite promises to do so. That lack of commitment on Reynolds’ part, especially considering her enthusiastic lobbying for other policies like returning schools to in-person learning, is notable.
“Until our governor stands up to her promises and includes language that is going to make sure that communities of color are safe and not subjected to racial profiling, as she promised, I’m asking that she veto this legislation for justice,” Smith said.
Efforts to eliminate language about diversity, privilege and bias from Iowa code, and to limit how and where they’re mentioned are also concerning, he said.
Earlier this week, a bill limiting what organizations can teach with diversity training programs in schools and post-secondary institutions (link) passed a House subcommittee.
And that’s not all. Smith said that across the board, in areas like education, commerce and agriculture, Iowa Republicans seem to be moving ahead without broad support.
“We’ve seen bills being pushed even though they do not have the support of the individuals that it impacts,” he said.
It would be easy to despair, but Smith and the other members of the Legislative Black Caucus are used to seeing regression in response to progress, he said, attributing all of the pushback this session to the activism and progress of last year. And he’d love to work more collaboratively, but state Republicans don’t share the interest.
Instead of focusing on that, he said they’re encouraged by the level of engagement that’s been sparked outside of the legislature, and the work everyone is still doing.
“For me the hope comes in seeing what we are right now,” Smith said.