DES MOINES --- A proposal to restore felons’ voting rights after completing their sentence — a priority of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds — will no longer be considered this year by state lawmakers.
Pitched by Reynolds in her condition of the state address in January, the proposal hit a legislative roadblock Thursday at the Iowa Capitol.
“I am disappointed in today’s setback, but I will not give up the fight for Iowans who deserve a second chance,” Reynolds said in a statement issued shortly after the proposal’s legislative failure. “It’s encouraging to have a strong coalition of supporters backing our proposed constitutional amendment. There’s more work to do, but I am committed to getting this done.”
Iowa is one of just two states that requires felons to petition the governor to have their voting rights restored after completing their sentence.
Reynolds, saying one individual should not wield such authority and that she believes in second chances, proposed amending the state’s constitution to grant automatic restoration of felons’ voting rights once their sentence is completed.
The proposal last month passed the Iowa House on a decisive 95-2 vote, but on Thursday was removed from consideration by Sen. Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale and chairman of the Senate’s judiciary committee. Zaun said there were not enough votes in the committee to pass it.
Because it did not advance through the committee, the proposal failed to meet a legislative deadline and is no longer eligible for consideration for the rest of this year.
“I didn’t have the support with my colleagues to move it through committee,” Zaun said. “There was not enough votes.”
Janet Petersen, the Senate Democratic leader and a judiciary committee member, said had the committee voted on the proposal, it would have had “substantial” support from Democrats.
Saying he thinks the victims of felons’ crimes should also be considered, Zaun said he and other Senate Republicans were hesitant to approve a proposal to restore felons’ voting rights without a companion proposal to clarify what benchmarks felons would be required to meet before having those rights restored.
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Statehouse Republicans have said they want to have a debate over, among other questions, whether before having their voting rights restored felons should be required to have all their fines and court fees paid, whether there should be a buffer period before those rights are restored, or whether certain violent crimes should be excluded from the restoration of voting rights.
That debate did not materialize this year. One bill was introduced, but no action was taken.
Even after passing the proposal, some House Republicans said they voted for the bill only with the understanding a restitution bill eventually would be passed.
Senate Republicans wanted that restitution bill first before they could support the proposed constitutional amendment, Zaun said.
“There were no conditions. That was the biggest problem with moving this bill,” Zaun said. “There were no conditions ... in regards to probation or who would qualify based on whatever they were sentenced with.”
An amendment to the Iowa Constitution must be approved by consecutive two-year General Assemblies then a public vote.
Lawmakers could revisit the issue next year.
But indications are it will not be easy for lawmakers to reach an agreement on restitution.
Democrats are hesitant to attach requirements that are too burdensome, Petersen said. For example, she suggested they would have difficulty supporting a requirement that felons have all fines and fees completely paid off.
And there is debate among Republican lawmakers about whether the restitution language should be included as a separate proposal to change state law or within the proposed constitutional amendment.