A bipartisan push to restore voting and firearm rights to former, non-violent felons is common sense legislation that should quickly find its way to the desk of Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Iowa is one of only four states (Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia) that permanently bars all citizens with felony convictions from voting, no matter how long they have lived crime-free lives. In Iowa, those who have paid a debt to society must navigate a cumbersome application process through the Governor’s Office.
Such restrictions have resulted in troublingly disparities. Nearly 10 percent of black Iowans are barred from voting, according to 2016 analysis.
A separate application process, also funneled through the Governor’s Office, exists for Iowans convicted of non-forcible felonies who want to own a firearm.
House File 2266, introduced by Reps. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, and Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, hopes to streamline both processes.
The proposal directs correctional officers to notify Iowans with completely discharged sentences that voting rights have been restored. Iowans convicted of Class D felonies that are not domestic abuse or otherwise forcible felonies would work with the Department of Public Safety to regain their right to bear arms. An appeals process is included for those initially denied.
Current law sends a message that Iowans don’t believe in rehabilitation. That should be especially concerning to Gov. Reynolds, who delivered a Condition of the State address grounded in the noble goal of opportunity for all. Iowa should be a place, she said, where “if you’ve made mistakes, you can find a second chance.”
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The governor could, of course, make a solo decision today that would roll back Iowa’s barriers to rights restoration. Even as we would encourage her to do so, we understand executive orders cannot provide permanent change. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack signed such an order, only to have former Gov. Terry Branstad reverse it on the first day he returned to Terrace Hill.
The resulting confusion and legal battles made clear that Iowans need a consistent and bipartisan legislative solution. No doubt such a move constitutes a high bar in this charged political climate, but Heartsill’s and Wolfe’s offering prove it isn’t an impossibility.
Time is short, and too many Iowans have already waited far too long for their second chance.
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