Because the issue was a priority for Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the House passed a measure related to the issue in almost-unanimous fashion, and because we supported the measure, we were surprised and disappointed a proposed constitutional amendment on restoration of voting rights for felons didn't get out of committee in the Senate and, as a result, is dead for this legislative session.
Still, support demonstrated for automatic restoration of a felon's right to vote after completion of sentence was sufficient enough this year for state government to give this another try next year.
Senate concerns included whether convicted felons should have to make full repayment of restitution before having their right to vote restored and whether felons convicted of certain crimes, such as murder, should be prohibited from ever getting their right to vote restored. We will not quarrel with insistence on additional discussion of those concerns. Instead, we suggest formation of a legislative study committee to address them before next year's session convenes.
Instead of restoring voting rights for felons through executive order, Reynolds prefers the more permanent approach of putting change in the law to voters in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment, an approach we believe makes sense. In January, Reynolds proposed an amendment to the state Constitution under which felons in Iowa would be allowed to register to vote after completion of their prison term, probation and parole - a position we believe reasonable and fair, and which we support.
As a state, Iowa should want convicted felons to become rehabilitated, productive members of society after they have met the sentences handed down for their crimes and should take steps to assist them, including the easing of restrictions on restoration of voting rights. Iowa and Kentucky are, in fact, the only states that permanently bar convicted felons from voting unless they complete a process for restoration through petition to the governor.
"I am disappointed in today's setback," Reynolds said after the felon voting rights issue stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, "but I will not give up the fight for Iowans who deserve a second chance. ... There's more work to do, but I am committed to getting this done."
We urge the Legislature to share her commitment and revisit this issue next year.