Staff Columnist

Iowa Republican legislator pleads for redemption for felons

Later in the day, fellow Republicans ditched proposal to restore voting rights

A cell at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison on Friday, January 23, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A cell at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison on Friday, January 23, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, delivered an emotional plea for forgiveness on the Senate floor Thursday.

The Legislature was considering a constitutional amendment to permanently restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. The freshman lawmaker called on her own family’s experience to persuade fellow Republicans to support the proposal.

Miller-Meeks said her brother Michael was a decorated Vietnam veteran, who was convicted of a felony for mishandling money during his time in the service. For that, he was denied his full military pension, and did not receive a military funeral when he died a year and a half ago.

Miller-Meeks said her brother suffered from a gambling addiction, but aside from the one felony conviction, he was a law-abiding citizen.

“Everyone has a Michael in their family. ... There are good people out there who do bad things, misjudgements, make mistakes when they are younger,” Miller-Meeks said.

Unfortunately, a Senate committee later on Thursday nixed the resolution, all but killing the amendment this year.

It is easy for politicians to disparage a class of faceless criminals, but much more difficult to dismiss the real-life circumstances of someone like Michael. Credit to Miller-Meeks for focusing attention on the human costs of the criminal justice system.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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