DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa House voted 95 to 2 in favor of a constitutional amendment, HJR 14, that would restore felon voting rights after the completion of a prison term.
Article II, Section 5 of the Iowa Constitution currently reads, “A person adjudged mentally incompetent to vote or a person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled the privilege of an elector.”
The amendment changes the language to, “A person adjudged mentally incompetent to vote or a person convicted of any felony who has not discharged his or her sentence shall not be entitled the privilege of an elector.”
The amendment will have to pass the Iowa Senate and pass in the next General Assembly before Iowans have the opportunity to vote to ratify it.
State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, the floor manager for the resolution, noted the bipartisan support for the amendment.
“It was a fascinating subcommittee to sit through as you watched two groups that are traditionally left-leaning – the NAACP and the ACLU – be in sync with two groups traditionally thought of as right-leaning – the FAMiLY Leader and Americans for Prosperity – but the theme of that subcommittee was second chances,” Kaufmann said.
He noted that Iowa was one of only two states, the other Kentucky, that does not have a streamlined process for the restoration of felon voting rights.
Currently, those discharged from prison or parole can apply to the governor for the restoration of voting rights if they have completed the repayment of court costs, restitution, and fees or if they are on a payment plan.
Kaufmann said that he supports the bill with a caveat.
“While I do wholeheartedly support this bill today, I want to make it clear to the General Assembly that next year as we are allowed within this constitutional amendment to prescribe exactly what discharge of sentence is, I do not believe that rapists, child molesters, or murderers should ever have those rights back,” he said.
State Rep. Todd Pritchard, D-Charles City, spoke in favor of the amendment.
“If you believe in the concept of redemption and that people can change and that they can come back into and be a functioning member, a contributing member of society this is that bill that allows, in a large way, allows people that change to become a contributing member of society,” he said.
State Rep. Mary Ann Wolfe, D-Clinton, used her time to speak as an opportunity to take a swipe at Senate Republicans.
“The Senate is going to have to do their part, and I am going to trust that they will be able to set aside whatever concerns they may have with the voting process. They apparently have a lot of concerns over there with voting in general. I am hoping they will do the right thing and vote yes on this amendment since it has been clear from all of the columns that have been written, all of the polls that have been done on this issue that the large majority of the people of Iowa want to see this happen. They want the opportunity to vote on this amendment for themselves,” she said.
A recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll found that two-thirds of Iowans support the restoration of voting rights for felons after completing their sentences.
Wolfe disagreed with Kaufmann’s position to deny voting rights for certain offenders.
“Next year we can have a discussion of whether it makes any kind of logical sense whatsoever to arbitrarily deny a certain category of offenders, of X offenders, the opportunity if they are working in our community if they have discharged their sentence, if they are paying taxes, raising their family in our community, whether there is any type of rationalization or excuse to tell them, ‘no you shall forever be unable to a fully participating member of the community and vote for the people who make the laws that decide what to do with the tax money you are having to pay in,'” she said.
State Reps. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, and Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City, also spoke in favor of the bill.
The amendment was a priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds and her office submitted the amendment.
“Today’s strong bipartisan vote is a victory for Iowans who deserve a second chance. There’s a broad coalition of supporters behind this constitutional amendment, and I will continue working with members of the Iowa Senate to move the process forward, allowing Iowans a vote on this important issue,” she said in a released statement after the vote.
Two Republicans, State Reps. Dean Fisher of Garwin and Jon Jacobsen of Council Bluffs voted against the resolution but did not speak in opposition during the debate.
State Reps. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, and Rick Olson, D-Des Moines, did not vote.