Iowa governor signs 'Back the Blue' bill that increases penalties for protest-related crimes

The law makes rioting a felony rather than a misdemeanor and increases penalties for blocking streets

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the "Back the Blue" bill into law on Thursday, increasing penalties for protest-related crimes. 

"We encourage First Amendment rights to protest peacefully, but if you break the law, you're going to be held accountable," the governor said, according to KCCI-TV in Des Moines.

Reynolds said those who riot, loot or attack officers "will be punished to the full extent of the law. The public peace is too important, and the safety of our officers too precious, to tolerate destructive behavior."

 "The public peace is too important, and the safety of our officers too precious, to tolerate destructive behavior."

— Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks in Johnston, Iowa, Sept. 29, 2020. (Associated Press)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks in Johnston, Iowa, Sept. 29, 2020. (Associated Press)

The law makes rioting a felony rather than a misdemeanor and increases penalties for blocking streets, according to KCCI. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is against the bill and critics say it will make people afraid to protest. 

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"Lawmakers know that the new penalties and crimes in this law will intimidate those who want to exercise their right to protest while understanding that in doing so, they risk unlawful police violence and arrest," executive director Mark Stringer said in the statement, according to the Des Moines Register. "Because this law intends to stifle lawful protesters, it is nothing less than an attack on free speech in our state."

Reynolds, a Republican, brushed off the criticism, saying as long as protesters don’t break the law it won’t apply to them.

"Like so many Iowans, I was raised to be grateful to the heroes who patrol our streets at great personal risk and sacrifice and tragically, this fundamental and wholesome part of America’s culture is now under vicious attack," she added, KCCI reported. 

A year ago, the governor signed a law that banned most chokeholds by police and sought to increase officer accountability.

She said both laws are important. 

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"There’s no contradiction between steadfast support for honorable and selfless police officers — the vast majority — and a commitment to improving policing," Reynolds said, according to the Register. "There’s no contradiction between world-class investigation and treating victims of crime the way we ourselves would want to be treated. And there’s no contradiction between vigorous policing and the community outreach that builds trust between law enforcement and everyday Iowans."