Iowa Bans 'Sanctuary Cities' and Threatens to Withhold State Funding

by | April 11, 2018 AT 4:00 PM

By Rod Boshart

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed 17 bills into law Tuesday, including controversial legislation to impose financial sanctions against local governments that fail to cooperate with federal officials in enforcing immigration laws in Iowa.

Senate File 481, which takes effect July 1, will require law enforcement agencies to comply with federal immigration detainer requests for people in their custody under written policies to be in place by Jan. 1.

In addition, the legislation prohibits local governments from discouraging their law enforcement officers or others from enforcing immigration laws.

The legislation imposes financial sanctions against local governments that backers say are providing sanctuary to potentially illegal immigrants rather than cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Backers say the legislation was enacted to address situations that arise when federal immigration officials believe someone in custody is in the country illegally and subject to deportation. The measure also would discourage so-called sanctuary cities or sanctuary counties in Iowa.

After the governor signed the bill, Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director, issued a statement saying her organization views the law as unconstitutional.

"Let's be clear. It violates a person's constitutional rights for Iowa law enforcement to hold them without a warrant or probable cause of a crime," Bettis said in a statement. "But that is what ICE detainer requests ask Iowa law enforcement to do.

"That's because ICE 'detainer requests' are exactly that: an ask of local law enforcement to hold a person without a warrant or probable cause. As a result of this, we are deeply concerned about the passage of S. F. 481 and will strive to defend the constitutional rights of Iowans against unlawful detentions."

Critics opposed the bill as an unfunded mandate for local entities by requiring them to hold people without a court order and makes them potentially financial liable while not providing any money to cities and counties for their costs.

Opponents also charged the bill was intended to score political points while scaring, intimidating and dividing Iowans.

"This law does not reflect Iowa values, and we will continue to defend each other because we believe that we all belong. Everyone sill has rights, and we will continue to fight for everyone's rights." said Erica Johnson, Iowa director of the American Friends Service Committee. "Our country has seen unjust laws in the past. And just like we did then, we will stand up against S. F. 481 and call for dignity and justice for all people in Iowa, regardless of immigration status."

The legislation requires local governments in Iowa to comply with federal detainer requests, prohibits them from adopting policies that discourage immigration enforcement activities and bars discriminatory practices.

It creates a sanction whereby offending local entities could be denied state funds for up to 90 days for violating the law's provisions. That would apply to road-use tax funds, state property tax replacements, tuition replacement, flood mitigation projects, community college funding, Iowa Economic Development Authority grants and other state funds.

Also Tuesday, the governor signed legislation that will reduce the legal and financial liabilities of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to individuals who later become involved in vehicle crashes.

Senate File 2169 would limit "dram shop" liability for business establishments accused of over-serving a drunk customers.

The bill would let juries award an unlimited amount of money for "substantial or permanent" damages from a drunken-driving accident, such as the victim's death or significant medical bills. Otherwise, "non-economic" damages when bars or restaurants are accused of over-serving a customer would be limited to $250,000.

Representatives from various hospitality industry associations supported the measure as a way to control spiraling liability insurance costs.

Trial lawyers, victim advocates and others said the cap on damages for victims would reduce protections and impede preventive efforts to keep impaired drivers off the roadways.

In other action, Iowans will be allowed to legally bring beer and wine and larger amounts of liquor across state lines under a separate bill signed by the governor Tuesday.

Currently, Iowans are allowed to import one bottle of liquor from another state or up to four bottles from outside the country, but they are prohibited from bringing any beer or wine across the state line for personal consumption.

Under Senate File 2347, Iowans will be allowed to import up to two cases of beer and 12 bottles of wine per month without running afoul of the state's "bootlegging" prohibition.

State law was revised to make first-offense criminal penalty for "bootlegging" a simple misdemeanor and a follow-up violation a serious misdemeanor.

The governor also signed House File 2297, a measure designed to eliminate an estimated 7,600 certifications and 1,400 boiler and unfired steam pressure vessel inspections at buildings for public use or access, such as rental structures and small businesses.

Proponents say the changes are similar to regulations and inspection requirements currently in effect in 36 other states.

And finally, Iowans will pay no fees to place or remove a freeze on access to their credit reports starting July 1 under Senate File 2177, which was signed into law by the governor.

The bill, proposed by the Iowa Attorney General's Office, prohibits credit reporting agencies from charging fees for "placing, removing, temporarily suspending or reinstating a security freeze." The bill also shortens the amount of time from five days to three days that a credit reporting agency must start the security freeze.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller proposed the legislation following the massive Equifax data breach disclosed in September, affecting 1.1 million Iowans and 143 million consumers nationwide.

"I just don't think these fees are fair to Iowa consumers, and the Equifax case is Exhibit A," Miller said in a statement. "If a company you have no control over exposes your personal information through negligence or as a result of someone else's criminal act, you shouldn't get left holding the bag simply because you want to protect yourself from identity thieves through credit freezes."

(c)2018 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)