DES MOINES (AP) — Republican legislators want to make sure flags flying at public buildings and schools are serving only patriotic — and not other — purposes.
Sens. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, and Jake Chapman, R-Adel, are promoting a bill slated for Senate subcommittee consideration that says custodians of public buildings or public school boards “shall only be authorized” to raise U.S., state of Iowa, POW/MIA and official flags of the political subdivisions on flagstaffs at buildings owned, operated or under their control.
Senate Study Bill 3017 is the legislators’ response to an event last November when a flag representing the transgender community, with blue, pink and white stripes flew, for up to five minutes at the Iowa Capitol building.
The flag was flown at the request of the LGBTQ advocacy group Iowa Safe Schools in honor of the Nov. 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance, which commemorates people who have died due to anti-transgender violence.
State officials say the incident was the result of two Department of Administrative Services employees failing to follow proper protocol for flying flags, but Chapman said many viewed it as inappropriate.
“I think that was completely disrespectful to the brave men and women who served in the military,” said Chapman. “I heard from numerous constituents who were very concerned about the precedent that’s being set. My understanding is that there were some internal policies that perhaps were violated during that demonstration but I think it’s important that at least my constituents know that we’re taking this serious. It’s what the flag represents and the fact that it was taken down and another flag was flown instead of the American flag and the Iowa flag and the POW/MIA flag, I think at a lot of Iowans find that to be very offensive.”
A state official said it’s not correct that the three flags were taken down — that the transgender flag flew on a different pole.
Nate Monson, Iowa Safe Schools executive director, said representatives of his organization petitioned Administrative Services, showed up at the Capitol with the flag as instructed and watched as it was displayed for several minutes — marking the first time a transgender flag was flown at a state Capitol building.
He said his group has the state certification it received in a glass display, but noted that beyond the national recognition associated with the event it sent a message to “trans youth that they were a part of Iowa, they are part of the country and that they matter.”
That’s especially important in the wake of Gov. Kim Reynolds signing legislation exempting transgender surgery from the state’s Medicaid program, Monson said.
“To do something symbolic like that that they matter, it really touched a lot of people’s lives for the positive,” he said.
Chapman said the flag-flying set “a terrible precedent” and said there’s e need to have a consistent policy for taxpayer-funded entities.
“I mean I started getting questions, could I go fly this flag? I’m a big Green Bay Packers fan, could I go fly the Packers’ flag?” the Adel Republican said. “It’s setting a precedent I don’t think we want to go down here in the state of Iowa. Reserve it for the American, the Iowa and the POW/MIA flag primarily.’
Sen. Tony Bisignano, a Des Moines Democrat who was assigned to the three-member Senate State Government subcommittee that will consider SSB3017, called the bill an overreaction to an isolated situation.
“What we get in this chamber now is reactionary politics,’ he said.
“We’ve got to look at the broadness of this and is it really necessary? Leave America the way it is — free. When we react and we try to write a law to outlaw, restrict, intimidate — we’re going in the wrong direction and that’s the way I feel about this bill,” the Des Moines senator added. “I don’t think it’s necessary that we have a law designating what flags can be flown where. It’s a bill of exclusion and I don’t support exclusion and that’s why I’ll oppose that bill.”
State Administrative Services spokeswoman Tami Wiencek said only three flags are approved to fly above the Iowa Capitol building — the American, Iowa and the POW/MIA flags.
“Two DAS employees did not follow the existing process. We have reminded all of our employees about existing procedures,” Wiencek said in an email.
The department website instructs the public to contact the department’s customer service at CustServ.GSE@iowa.gov to request a flag to be flown over the Capitol.
“The flag in question flew on the ceremonial pole on the east side of the Capitol Building only and that flag did not supplant the Iowa or U.S. flags,” she said.