DES MOINES — Iowa House Republicans used their clerks to limit opponents of a “sanctuary cities” bill from being present while it was under consideration this week.
House Public Safety Committee Chairman Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, reserved nearly all the seats in the Capitol’s Ronald Reagan meeting room for clerks who work for GOP representatives. Typically, though, clerks do not attend the meetings.
He asserted it was an attempt to maintain order while the committee discussed legislation threatening to withhold state funds from cities deemed to not have cooperated enough with federal immigration authorities.
“I threw 11 people out of here one at a time,” Baudler said about the committee discussion of similar legislation last year. “We don’t want a repeat.”
Three Iowa State Patrol troopers were on hand to maintain order, but there were no attempts to disrupt the proceedings.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Mitch Henry of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa said about the clerks’ reserved seats.
He estimated that only five or six from the public — in addition to media — were allowed in the room where about 100 people had attended a subcommittee hearing on the bill in January.
“We know there is a lot of opposition against the bill,” Henry said. “When you just get five or six dissenters, you know, it looks like everyone is supporting it and that’s not true.”
Of the 130 lobbyists registered on the bill, 76 — including church-related and civil rights groups, law enforcement and local governments — are opposed. Only the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps supports it. The others are neutral.
When the committee reconvened later to pass the bill 11-10 with Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, joining Democrats in opposition, it was in a larger meeting room with more than 30 members of the public present. There were no reserved seats.
“I guess there were enough complaints from the media, if you will, so we reversed that and let the representatives’ secretaries or clerks go,” Baudler said after getting guidance from House Republican leadership.
The bill is necessary, Baudler said, because “the rule of law and the voluntary compliance to the rule of law is one of the most important parts of our society. If we don’t adhere to that we are going to have chaos and I don’t want to live in a place with chaos.”
Bill manager Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, cited a 2017 resolution by the Iowa City Council as being “in defiance of the rule of law” as evidence of the need for the bill.
That resolution said, in part, “Except as necessary to promote public safety as determined by the police chief … Iowa City Police Department shall not undertake any law enforcement action for the purpose of detecting the presence of undocumented people …”
That means there is the “potential for a San Francisco right here in Iowa,” Holt said.
Iowa City has said it is not a “sanctuary city” but that police need to have good relationships with immigrants so crimes get reported and can be solved.
The committee approved an amendment to remove county attorneys from investigations of local governments not following SF 481. The amendment also added a requirement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests for local law enforcement to detain jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally be made in writing.
“That answers concerns of sheriffs and deputies and county attorneys so we believe it has potential to change their position on the bill,” Holt said.
However, former police officer Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, said the Legislature would be putting local law enforcement in a tough position if the detainer requests are not signed by a judge or magistrate as well.
If they release an undocumented person, they may be risking the loss of state funds. However, they risk a lawsuit if they hold the person after all other requirements for release have been met.