DES MOINES — Legislation intended to “back the blue” in Iowa by attempting to prevent local entities from “defunding” police drew protests of unnecessary state intrusion and concerns over unintended consequences for smaller communities with sharing arrangements during a legislative hearing Monday.
Under Senate Study Bill 1203, local government entities would be ineligible to receive any state funds if their elected officials decided to reduce the budget of their law enforcement agency unless their total budget was reduced by an equal or larger amount or the city or county provided “sufficient justification” to the state Department of Management, which would set rules for the new arrangement.
“We believe it is an unnecessary intrusion into local government decision-making,” said Robert Palmer, a lobbyist for the Iowa League of Cities.
Local budget-making is a core function of local elected officials, Palmer told a three-member Senate State Government subcommittee, and “our members believe these local decisions need to remain at the local level.”
Palmer said the crux of the proposal was not about public safety but rather attempted to create incentives for retaining expenditure levels not based upon service needs that could run counter to local efforts to save costs, find efficiencies and lower property tax burdens.
“We believe it sets a very bad precedent on setting minimum expenditures and also on precedent of the state interjecting itself into local government decision-making,” added Palmer, who was one of only two speakers to address the panel on the bill that had no supporters among the lobbyists registered opposed or undecided.
Subcommittee chairwoman Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, said she appreciated the concerns that were expressed. But she pointed to increased crime and police response time in Minneapolis “after they defunded back in December.” She said the objective of the legislation is “to make sure our communities are safe across Iowa.”
Republicans on the panel forwarded the bill to the full committee, but Cournoyer said she expected the issue would see more work to avoid or address unintended consequences.
Larry Murphy, a lobbyist for the Urban County Coalition, the Iowa Police Chiefs Association, Linn County and the city of Cedar Rapids who previously served as a mayor, supervisor and state senator, said he has heard concerns from law enforcement agencies and leaders from communities of various population sizes.
“This particular piece of legislation has serious constitutional problems,” he said. He noted that Iowa voters approved constitutional amendments granting home rule to cities in 1968 and counties in 1978 to make those kinds of decisions without state interference or oversight. SSB 1203 would hand that off to a nonelected state agency.
“I understand some of the driving force on the protect the blue or back the blue concept, but the danger of legislating to a particular issue like that is some of the unintended consequences,” Murphy said. “You do not want to be having local governments’ hands tied like this.”
Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, who did not sign the subcommittee report, said the meeting raised valid concerns, especially regarding public safety, that he has heard from law officers and elected officials who have told him “this really could have some serious unintended consequences to simply make a point.”
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