By Attorneys Mike Galloway, Ann Smisek and Elizabeth Heffernan
On June 17, 2021, Governor Reynolds’ signed Senate File 342 into law. This bill, also known as the “Back the Blue” law, addresses many code sections and topics pertaining to police departments; however, this client alert focuses specifically on changes to the Peace Officer, Public Safety, and Emergency Personnel Bill of Rights, civil service hiring procedures, and workers’ compensation disability benefits.
Police Officer Bill Of Rights
SF-342 adds several procedural protections to an officer who is the subject of a complaint or investigation under Iowa Code section 80F.1. The changes are as follows:
1. Definition of “complaint” now means a formal written allegation signed by the complainant or a signed, written statement by an officer who receives an oral complaint. The important change here is that if an officer receives an oral complaint, in order to move forward with the process, the statement must be written and signed by either the complainant or the officer documenting an oral complaint.
2. Officers must be immediately notified in writing of the results of a formal administrative investigation when the investigation is completed.
3. Previously, if a complaint alleged domestic abuse, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment, an officer was not allowed to receive more than a written summary of the complaint. Allegations of workplace harassment is now added to that list.
4. Officers now have the right to have the assistance of legal counsel, at their own expense, not only during the interview, but also during hearings, and “other disciplinary or administrative proceedings relating to the complaint.” This is a change from the previous right to have legal counsel present during the interview only. Review your policies and applicable collective bargaining agreements regarding disciplinary and complaint proceedings to determine which additional stages officers now have the right to the assistance of legal counsel.
5. There is added protection to confidential information. A new subsection states that an officer's legal counsel, union representative, or employee representative cannot be compelled to disclose information received from an officer under investigation in any judicial proceeding. Nor can those advocates be investigated or disciplined for refusing to disclose the information. Communications between the officer’s legal counsel and the officer’s union or employee representative are not subject to discovery. However, this information is not protected if the officer is an uninvolved party and is not considered a witness to any incident.
6. If an investigation results in disciplinary action against an officer, copies of witness statements and the complete investigative report shall be provided timely upon request of the officer or their legal counsel.
7. An officer may bring a cause of action against any person, group of persons, organization, or corporation for damages arising from the filing of a false complaint or for any other violation of Chapter 80F. Previously, this section only allowed officers to bring a cause of action against a “citizen” for filing a false complaint. The amendments expand that right.
8. The amendments also expand the types of personal information considered confidential. This list includes: personal information such as home address, personal phone number, personal e-mail, birthdate, social security number, and driver’s license number. This information must be redacted from any record before that record is released to the public. This information can be released to the officer’s legal counsel, union or employee representative if the officer requests it.
9. Additionally, complaints made against an officer, an officer’s statement, recordings, or transcripts of any interviews or disciplinary proceedings must be kept confidential, unless otherwise provided by law or the officer gives written consent to disclose it. This information may be provided to the officer’s legal counsel if the officer requests it.
10. The amendments also add a training requirement: An agency employing full or part-time officers must provide training to any officer or supervisor who performs or supervises an investigation. The agency must also keep documentation of this training. The Iowa law enforcement academy is also required to establish minimum training standards to assist with this section.
11. If an officer or their legal counsel requests it in writing, the agency must also provide a copy of the officer’s personnel file and training records. This requirement applies even if the officer is not the subject of an investigation.
12. Finally, an officer cannot be disciplined solely due to a prosecuting attorney determining that an officer withheld exculpatory evidence. However, the officer can be disciplined for the underlying actions that resulted in exculpatory evidence being withheld, in compliance with a collective bargaining agreement if one applies.
Although it appears that this bill was directed to add protections for police officers, it is critical for public employers to remember that the protections in Iowa Code section 80F.1 apply to a larger group of employees. “Officer” under the Police Officer Bill of Rights includes: “a certified law enforcement officer, fire fighter, emergency medical technician, corrections officer, detention officer, jailer, probation or parole officer, communications officer, or any other law enforcement officer certified by the Iowa law enforcement academy and employed by a municipality, county, or state agency.”
Civil Service Commission Examinations
This legislation also made changes to Iowa Code Chapter 400 concerning Civil Service hiring procedures.
- It now requires that the Civil Service Commission hire someone “with expertise” to both “prepare and administer” the original entrance examinations approved by the Commission.
- It also requires that someone with expertise be hired to prepare and administer the promotional examinations approved by the Commission for the position in the city for which an applicant is taking the examination.
Previously, the commission could prepare and administer the examinations itself or choose to hire someone.
It is presently unclear if this legislative change requires the Commission to hire an outside consultant or vendor to prepare and administer the examinations or whether the Commission can hire or utilize existing human resources staff or legal counsel to fulfill this obligation. At this time, until further guidance is developed, we believe compliance can be accomplished by Civil Service Commissions documenting how the persons they utilize for preparation and administration of the exams have expertise in this area.
These changes apply to the examinations used for “determining the qualifications of applicants for positions under civil service” and for determining the qualifications of “applicants for promotion to a higher grade under civil service.” Iowa Code Section 400.8 and 400.9. Again, although it appears that this “Back the Blue” bill was focused primarily on police officers, these changes apply to all positions under civil service.
Workers’ Compensation & Disability Medical Benefits
Two additional subsections were added to the section of the Iowa Code that addresses pensions offset by compensation benefits. Under these new additions, workers’ compensation benefits received for past or future medical expenses cannot be offset against, or payable in lieu of, any retirement allowance that is payable on account of the same disability. Additionally, any workers’ compensation benefits received for reimbursement of vacation time, sick time, or any unpaid time off from work cannot be offset against or payable in lieu of any retirement allowance payable on account of the same disability.
Finally, a provision was added to the section addressing disability benefits for service members. Under this new subsection, employers must furnish certain services and supplies for a special service member who is:
- injured in the performance of their duties, and
- receiving an in-service disability retirement allowance (or has waived that allowance).
This requirement is in place regardless of when the injury occurred or when the disability allowance started. Under this new section, the employer must provide “reasonable” surgical, medical, dental, osteopathic, chiropractic, podiatric, physical rehabilitation, nursing, ambulance, and hospital services.
The changes to workers’ compensation and disability benefits do not apply to all employees but only to those who are defined as in “protection occupations” as defined in Iowa Code section 97B.49B, including police officers, firefighters, conservation peace officers, airport safety officers, jailers, emergency medical care providers, parole officers, and other positions required to be certified law enforcement.
This is an extensive new bill, with changes to a number of different sections of the Iowa Code. If you have any questions about this Client Alert, please contact any member of the Ahlers & Cooney Collective Bargaining/Labor Law Group.
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