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Iowa Lawmakers Send Felon Voting, Cannabis, Gun Proposals To Governor

iowa capitol
John Pemble / IPR
Iowa Capitol

On their first day back at the Iowa Capitol after suspending the legislative session due to coronavirus, Republican lawmakers advanced policies related to felon voting rights, medical cannabis and local gun restrictions.

Iowa House Republicans passed a bill to exclude some Iowans with felony convictions from automatic voting rights restoration if a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights upon completion of sentence is ratified in the future.

The bill would prevent automatic rights restoration for people convicted of a few specific crimes including murder and manslaughter. And it requires full payment of victim restitution as a condition of automatic rights restoration, something Republican supporters say is about making victims whole.

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, said in thinking about “making people whole,” the legislature should consider the history of poll taxes and voter suppression tactics used against African-Americans. He said the requirement to pay victim restitution is unjust.

“You are knowingly utilizing legislation to guarantee that poor Iowans are disproportionately impacted and shut out from the process to raise their voices,” Smith said. “That’s just what it is.”

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said he is focusing on crime victims.

“And victims come in all color, race. sex. creed and religion,” Kaufmann said. “And I’m advocating for all of them regardless of what they look like.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her signature. On Thursday, Reynolds applauded lawmakers for reaching a compromise on the issue. The House passed the constitutional amendment last year, and the Senate has until Saturday to approve it in a committee.

Iowans with felony convictions currently have to apply directly to the governor to get their voting rights restored.

Medical cannabis changes

The Iowa Senate passed a bill 32-17 that makes some changes to the state’s medical cannabis program. It would restrict THC purchases to 4.5 grams over 90 days with some exceptions, which allows for some more potent cannabis products. Current law limits the amount of THC in any cannabis product to 3 percent but does not limit total purchases.

The bill allows more medical providers to certify patients for the program, streamlines the process of obtaining a medical card, allows employers to regulate cannabis use among workers, and makes some other changes.

It now goes to Reynolds for her signature. She vetoed a bipartisan bill last year that would have allowed patients to have more THC.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said he would’ve liked to advance last year’s bill, but this is what was negotiated with the House and the governor.

“It’s not perfect,” Zaun said. “It is a step forward. It’s not what I want.”

Some other Republicans said they prefer the lower THC level because it was recommended by a state cannabis advisory board.

Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, said lawmakers should have insisted on the higher THC level. He is concerned thatsome Iowans won’t be able to get enough THC to relieve their pain.

“And if we bend on this, we’re going to be another eight years before we ever move Iowa forward,” Taylor said. “This bill’s not going to help anybody. It’s going to hurt people.”

Restricting local gun ordinances

The Iowa Senate passed a bill along party lines prohibiting local governments from having stricter firearm accessory policies than the state. It also requires local governments to provide armed security and screenings if they ban guns in public buildings.

“The state legislature has deemed it their prerogative to set firearms policy in the state of Iowa for 30 years,” said Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig. “Despite that there have been municipalities and counties who have tried to work their way around the language in code, so it keeps getting a little more focused and a little bit broader.”

The Des Moines City Council has previously considered banning high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. This bill would prevent such efforts.

Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, wanted to add to the bill a requirement for police officers to receive equal amounts of de-escalation and firearms training. He said it would be a step toward systemic change as protesters call for an end to police violence.

“The amendment is not meant to be a solution to the entire problem, but instead to simply acknowledge the need for change and an emphasis that de-escalation should be just as important and receive just as much attention and energy as a firearm,” Wahls said.

Republican leaders did not allow a vote on the amendment. The bill was sent to the governor for her signature.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter