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Legislative Day: A Proposal to Restore Felon Voting Rights

Sebastiaan ter Burg

Governor Kim Reynolds has proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow felons in Iowa to vote after completing their prison sentences, probation, and parole.

Since 2011, Iowa felons who serve their full sentences, including parole, must apply for the right to vote. Their ability to vote is then determined on a case-by-case basis by the Governor’s office.

In this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with felons about the proposal, including a Marion resident named Forrest, who called in to say that, while he was released from the penal system before 2011, he is bothered that ex-felons today aren’t automatically able to vote since serving time in prison.

“If I had not received those rights back, maybe I wouldn’t be the business owner that I am today,” he says. “It’s one of those things where if you don’t feel like you’re a part of the system, why should you act to further it?”

Democrat Rep. Mary Wolfe, a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, recently filed a House joint resolution similar to the governor’s proposal.

“I think it’s a great idea, I was thrilled to hear the governor support that, I was thrilled to see her proposed legislation on my desk, and I’m looking forward to working with members of both parties to move the constitutional amendment forward.”

Republican Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Brad Zaun, says that while he understands this is a priority for the governor, “This might be problematic to get through the Iowa Senate.”

After talking with judiciary committee members, he found that, “There’s not a lot of support to do this.”

Zaun says he and the committee will keep an open mind, but they will likely not consider this proposal unless it includes a requirement for full restitution to victims and the court, as well as some kind of probation period.

Other guests joining today’s discussion include: Republican Rep. Steven Holt, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee; Karl Schilling, past president and current legislative committee chair for the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance; and Kerri True-Funk of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River