DES MOINES — Felons who complete their sentences would automatically have their voting rights restored under a constitutional amendment proposed Tuesday by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Iowa and Kentucky are the only states that require felons to petition the governor to have their voting rights restored after completing their sentences.
Reynolds proposed language to amend the Iowa Constitution. The change, the governor’s staff says, would make felons eligible to vote once they have completed their sentences, bringing Iowa’s policy in line with 35 other states.
A change to the Iowa Constitution must be approved by two consecutive Iowa General Assemblies and then Iowa voters.
“I believe in second chances,” Reynolds said Tuesday.
Reynolds said she does not think felons should be permanently banned from voting, and one person should not hold the sole authority over whether those rights are restored. Her amendment would do that automatically once a felon has completed his or her sentence.
Iowa law defines a sentence as including any probation or parole. It does not include court-ordered restitution, nor does Reynolds’ proposal.
Key Republican legislators said they think some form of restitution should be included. Stipulations could include partial or complete repayment of fines and court fees, and period of time after completion of the sentence before the rights are restored.
That could mean legislators approve the governor’s proposal while also crafting legislation that would put those stipulations into state law.
“The Senate Republicans’ position is that there will have to be some additional stipulations,” said Republican Sen. Dan Dawson, the vice chairman of the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee. “Our focus would be try to restore the rights of those individuals who truly have moved past their bad act or bad behavior, and part of that is, have you made your victim whole? Have you paid back your court debts that would have been ordered as well, if there were?”
The top Democrat on the Iowa House Judiciary Committee said she supports Reynolds’ proposal. Rep. Mary Wolfe has proposed a House Joint Resolution similar to the governor’s proposal.
“Good for the governor. I can support that 100 percent,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe called the governor’s approach a “clean” way to address voting rights restoration and said trying to write into law stipulations like requiring payment of restitution and court costs could be problematic.
“It would a) be difficult to get the language right and b) I think it might cause real problems moving it forward,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe also said she would like to see Reynolds use her executive authority to restore felons’ voting rights while legislators debate the proposed constitutional amendment.
Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack granted automatic restoration of felons’ voting rights through executive order in 2005. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad rescinded that action immediately after taking office in 2011.
Reynolds, who was Branstad’s lieutenant governor from 2011 to 2017, said she is focused on the constitutional amendment because it is a more permanent solution and it ultimately puts the question to Iowa voters.
Reynolds has restored the rights of 88 felons since she took office in May 2017.