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Republican Senators Block Iowa Governor's Proposal To Restore Felon Voting Rights

brad zaun
John Pemble / IPR
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Republican governor’s proposed constitutional amendment to automatically restore felon voting rights will not win approval from the full Iowa Legislature this year after Republicans on a Senate committee declined to consider it Thursday ahead of a Statehouse deadline.

One of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ top priorities this year was taking the first step in passing a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights after a person completes their sentence.

The House passed the resolution 95 to 2, but Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said there wasn’t enough support among his fellow Republicans on the judiciary committee to advance it this year in the Senate.

“There were no conditions. That was the biggest problem with moving this bill,” Zaun said. “There was no conditions in regards to probation or who would qualify based on whatever crime [they committed] or whatever they were sentenced with.”

Zaun said the Senate could consider this again next year along with additional restrictions, and it could still be on track to be on the ballot for a vote of the people in 2022.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Zaun said. “This is a long process.”

“I am disappointed in today’s setback,” Reynolds said in a statement. “But I will not give up the fight for Iowans who deserve a second chance.”

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen called the decision by Republican committee members “shameful” and said her fellow Democrats will work to pass this next year.

“In the meantime, we urge the governor to use her authority to issue an executive order as soon as possible to restore felon voting rights,” Petersen said.

House Judiciary Chair Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said House Republicans also want to add restrictions, but they passed the felon voting rights resolution with the understanding they’d discuss that next year.

“It’s difficult to do that without them passing it and keeping the conversation going,” Holt said. “There’s plenty of time to have that discussion.”

Holt added he fears lawmakers will miss their chance to have input on who qualifies to have their voting rights restored, because a governor might issue an executive order to restore voting rights for all Iowans with felony convictions.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter