One of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ most laudable legislative priorities just made it under the wire this week as lawmakers approached their “funnel” deadline. A constitutional amendment championed by Reynolds restoring voting rights to felons who complete their sentences was approved Wednesday evening by the House Judiciary Committee.
For supporters, the wait was nerve-wracking. But the committee vote was unanimous, 21-0.
Clearing one committee and one deadline leaves a long path forward. The amendment resolution remains several big steps from passage this year. And passage in 2019 would send the amendment measure to the next General Assembly in 2021, and potentially on to Iowa voters.
We’ve been closely watching the issue since Reynolds called for giving felons a second chance at civic life during her Condition of the State address in January. We saw her support for felon voting rights as a welcome sign the governor is charting a leadership path different from that of her predecessor, former Gov. Terry Branstad.
We also see the issue as a chance for state lawmakers to prove they can still break out of their well-worn partisan ruts to buck politics as usual, cooperate and do the right thing.
Because restoring voting rights to felons who discharge their sentences is undoubtedly the right thing to do. Iowa is one of just two states, along with Kentucky, that forces felons to apply to the governor to get their voting rights back. The process is daunting, even after Iowa officials acted to “streamline” it.
Thousands of released felons still are barred from voting, with black Iowans making up a disproportionate number of the disenfranchised.
Reynolds’ fellow Republicans who run the Legislature need to keep the issue moving forward. And we believe they should resist calls to pass separate legislation throwing up barriers to restoration of voting rights. One proposal — making restoration contingent on full payment of victim restitution payments — could bar some low-income felons from the voting booth for years.
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We’ve long heard the tough-on-crime rationales for the current system. But, in her speech, Reynolds said she believes Iowans “recognize the power of redemption.” A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows 64 percent of Iowans favor restoring voting rights.
Lawmakers should choose redemption. And if they delay or refuse, we renew our call for Reynolds to use her executive power to restore voting rights immediately.
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