Activists: $1M rally insurance policy puts First Amendment rights ‘in peril’

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Coverage by KCCI, Des Moines, Iowa, August 15, 2017

Activists in Des Moines are pushing back against a rule by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services requiring groups to obtain a $1 million insurance policy before rallying at the Statehouse.

Groups are afraid that if monetary restrictions are put on who can rally at the Statehouse, smaller groups with important messages will get lost.

“If they really want to push this there’s going to be a huge fight on their hands,” said Ed Fallon, with Bold Iowa.

“To limit the ability for Iowans to speak their minds at the people’s house seems patently unfair,” ACLU Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer said.

Officials with the Department of Administrative Services said the rule is under review. Stringer said the policy infringes on free speech.

“The First Amendment guarantees our right to gather in public spaces as long as we’re not impeding traffic or hampering safety,” Stringer said. “If you start limiting one group’s free speech rights, then other groups’ rights become in peril.”

The department said the rule has been in place since the last DSA administration but it is just now being enforced for consistency and to protect property and claims that might occur.

“It’s maybe been on the books for a while, but it’s never been enforced, and this seems just like another way to suppress our first amendment rights,” Fallon said.

The department says it is looking into providing waivers for smaller groups that may not be able to pay for a $1 million policy.

Fallon said the waiver could cause more problems than solutions.

“When you start picking who gets a waiver and who doesn’t, then that gets really crazy,” Fallon said.

Officials with the Department of Administrative Services declined to go on camera but said insurance requirements will vary based on attendance size, the length of the event and other factors.