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Felon Voting Rights Restoration Takes First Step In Constitutional Amendment Process

bobby kaufmann
Katarina Sostaric
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, was the floor manager for a proposal to automatically restore felon voting rights at the Iowa Capitol Thursday, March 28, 2019.

The Iowa House of Representatives voted Thursday in favor of a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to Iowans with felony convictions after they complete their sentence.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds made this a priority and has been advocating for the constitutional amendment. The resolution passed the house with a 95-2 vote.

“Today’s strong bipartisan vote is a victory for Iowans who deserve a second chance,” Reynolds said in a statement.

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said she is excited about moving this forward.

“This is something that I and many members of my caucus have been talking about, filing bills about, and working towards for many years now,” Wolfe said.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, managed the resolution in the House. He said people who have paid their debt to society should have the right to vote.

“But as far as I’m concerned, child molesters, rapists and murderers will never repay their debt to society or their victims,” Kaufmann said.

He said lawmakers will consider adding more conditions next year.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, was asked why Republican representatives voted for the constitutional amendment without first deciding on those restrictions.

“I think they’re very confident that we’ll develop the policy that goes with it,” Upmeyer said.

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Urbandale, credited Reynolds’ leadership with making the vote happen.

Senate considers felon voting rights restoration

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, chairs the Judiciary Committee, which may consider this proposal. He said he would only support felon voting rights restoration if there is a probationary period, people convicted of murder and rape are excluded, and restitution is paid.

“It’s almost like we got the cart before the horse here,” Zaun said. “I really think it’s important that we figure out…the conditions of reinstating voting rights before we vote for the language that the governor has advocated for.”

Zaun added the proposal has an “uphill climb” in the Senate, based on conversations he’s had with Republican colleagues. It would have to pass a subcommittee and a committee by April 5 in order to remain eligible this legislative session.

The House and Senate would both have to pass the resolution again after the 2020 election. Then, the proposal could go on the ballot for a vote of the people in 2022.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter