2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Reynolds details felon voting rights plan

Fellow Republicans want additional requirements

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa felons who complete their sentences would have voting rights restored automatically under a constitutional amendment proposed Tuesday by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Iowa and Kentucky are the only two states that require felons to petition the governor if they want to have the rights restored after their sentences are over.

The Republican governor’s proposal would make felons eligible to vote once they have completed their sentences — but not necessarily paid restitution — bringing Iowa’s policy in line with 35 other states.

A change to the constitution must be approved by two consecutive Iowa General Assemblies and then Iowa voters.

Reynolds said she does not think felons should permanently be banned from voting, and no one person should hold authority over whether those rights are restored.

Iowa law defines a sentence as including any probation or parole. It does not include court-ordered restitution, nor does Reynolds’ proposal.

Key Republican legislators said they think some form of restitution should be included. Stipulations could include partial or complete repayment of fines and court fees, and a period of time after completion of the sentence.

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That could mean legislators approve the governor’s proposed amendment while also crafting legislation putting those stipulations into law.

“The Senate Republicans’ position is that there will have to be some additional stipulations,” said Republican Sen. Dan Dawson, the vice chairman of the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee. “Our focus would be try to restore the rights of those individuals who truly have moved past their bad act or bad behavior, and part of that is, have you made your victim whole? Have you paid back your court debts that would have been ordered as well, if there were?”

The top Democrat on the Iowa House Judiciary Committee said she supports Reynolds’ proposal. Rep. Mary Wolfe has proposed a similar House joint resolution.

“I think that will work just fine,” Wolfe said after reading an explanation of Reynolds’ plan. “Good for the governor. I can support that 100 percent.”

Wolfe said trying to write into law stipulations like requiring payment of restitution and court costs could be problematic. “It would a) be difficult to get the language right and b) I think it might cause real problems moving it forward,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe also said she would like to see Reynolds use her executive authority to restore felons’ voting rights while legislators debate the proposed amendment.

Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack granted automatic restoration of felons’ voting rights through executive order in 2005. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad rescinded that action immediately after taking office in 2011.

Reynolds, who was Branstad’s lieutenant governor from 2011 to 2017, said she is focused on the amendment because it is a more permanent solution and ultimately puts the question to Iowa voters.

Reynolds has restored the rights of 88 felons since she took office in May 2017.

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