New legislation passed in Iowa last Monday that will effectively “shorten the deadline for filing discrimination lawsuits in the state from two years to 90 days.” The legislation in question sailed through a Republican-controlled House on a vote of 58-39 and is awaiting final approval in the GOP-controlled Iowa senate.
As the law stands right now, “people have two years to file lawsuits in district court after their discrimination claims are investigated by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC), which oversees such complaints.” If passed, the new legislation will align “with federal guidelines,” but that’s not stopping some from voicing their concerns. For example, Kristin Johnson, the ICRC executive director, said the bill “could add pressure on complainants who would have to meet a quicker filing deadline.”
Others who oppose the bill include Daniel Zeno, a legislative liaison for the American Civil Liberties of Iowa. According to Zeno, the new bill will “ultimately hurt low-income people who cannot immediately find a lawyer to take their case.” He added, “their chances of finding a lawyer — and they may have a fantastic case — but their chances of finding a lawyer in that 90-day period as opposed to two years, becomes harder. It’s going to have a negative impact on people’s ability to get access to justice.”
Others disagree with Zeno’s claims, like Rep. Megan Jones. Jones claims “the policy change will preserve evidence for court cases and should not impact people’s ability to find a lawyer.” In a statement she said:
“It’s not hard to find a lawyer. As an attorney myself, there are certain areas that may have trouble finding an attorney, but specifically, when it comes to civil rights claims, I think there are plenty of people interested and involved and willing to take these cases on.”
Other supporters of the bill include many businesses and business owners, like Doug Beech who works for Casey’s General Stores. According to people like Beech, the new bill will “allow businesses to get rid of older records and ensure witness testimony remains accurate in discrimination cases.” Others, like Michelle Hurd of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, agreed, saying, “after two years, it becomes increasingly difficult for the parties to administer a case as witnesses have moved on, memories fade and evidence becomes stale.”
Despite all of this support, there is plenty of opposition to go around. Advocacy groups, such as One Iowa, an LGBT advocacy group, worry that the shorter timeline “will make it challenging for victims of discrimination to prepare a thorough court case” and get the justice they deserve.