2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Gov. Reynolds prods lawmakers on felon voting rights proposal

Restoring the rights is one of governor's priorities

Iowa NAACP President Betty Andrews joins Gov. Kim Reynolds on March 12 to advocate for the restoration of voting rights for felons who complete their sentences. Reynolds announced she has streamlined the application process, trimming it from three pages to one. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)
Iowa NAACP President Betty Andrews joins Gov. Kim Reynolds on March 12 to advocate for the restoration of voting rights for felons who complete their sentences. Reynolds announced she has streamlined the application process, trimming it from three pages to one. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Since she streamlined the application process, Gov. Kim Reynolds has seen an uptick of interest among felons seeking to have their voting rights restored, she said, but little legislative movement to change the rules.

Earlier this month, Reynolds reduced the application from three pages to one, eliminated a $15 application fee and removed a requirement for additional information. Since then, she has received about 55 applications. That’s in addition to the 122 people whose voting rights she has restored since taking office in May 2017.

However, her proposal for a constitutional amendment restoring felon voting rights to go on the ballot as soon as 2022 has yet to be approved by the Senate or the House.

“We’re running up against another funnel week,” Reynolds said Monday on WHO-AM 1040 radio, referring to the April 5 deadline for legislation to be approved by either the Senate or House and a committee in the other chamber to advance.

While restoring felons’ voting rights appears to have legislative support, there isn’t a consensus on how broadly it should be applied.

“There are really two pieces,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “One is allowing felons to vote. The second is whether that is all felons, is it some felons, are some people excluded.”

Under current law, a felon must apply to the governor to get voting rights restored. The House Judiciary Committee has approved House Study Bill 68 that would restore voting rights once a felon has discharged his or her sentence. But House Judiciary Chairman Steve Holt, R-Denison, said House members have the same concerns as Whitver’s Senate GOP caucus.

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“I know there are a lot of concerns in various areas about victim restitution,” he said. One concern is about murderers released from prison. “We can’t make restitution to somebody who is no longer alive.”

There also are discussion whether people convicted of certain crimes — murder, kidnapping, child sexual assault, for example — should be excluded from having voting rights restored.

Bill manager Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, hopes to win House approval of HSB 68 in time to send it to the Senate Judiciary Committee for action before the April 5 deadline. He expects House Republicans to discuss the bill Tuesday.

Reynolds said she continues to have conversations with lawmakers about felon voting rights restoration because she believe the change is the right thing to do.

“I believe Iowans agree with second chances,” she said.

Reynolds is urging legislators to keep the amendment “very clean and narrow.”

“If there are other issues that we need to address we can do that through legislation,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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