Iowa House approves amendment allowing ex-felons to vote

The Iowa House on Thursday voted to restore voting right for felons who completed their sentences.

The Republican-controlled chamber approved the proposed constitutional amendment in an overwhelming 95-2 vote, The Des Moines Register reported.

The current language in the Iowa constitution prohibits convicted felons from voting for the rest of their lives, unless their rights are restored by the governor. 

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Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has advocated for the amendment and made it one of her priorities since becoming governor in May 2017. 

"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," Reynolds said in a statement.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE (D) issued an executive order in 2005 that permanently restored former felons’ voting rights once they left prison. Reynolds’s predecessor, Terry Branstad (R), rescinded that order in 2011.

Reynolds, who was arrested in 1999 and 2000 on drunken driving charges, has said that she personally has benefitted from getting second chances.

“I believe that people make mistakes and there’s opportunities to change, and that needs to be recognized,” she said in January, according to the Register. “So it’s something that I’m passionate about.”

The measure will now need to advance through the state Senate’s committee process before the end of the week to meet the legislative deadline.

The bill would then need to be passed by the both chambers in 2021 or 2022 before being added to the ballot for a statewide vote, the newspaper noted.

Florida voters in January approved a similar amendment automatically restoring voting rights to approximately 1.5 million felons in the state. 

A Republican-led Florida House committee, however, approved a measure earlier this month that would require felons to pay all court fee and costs beforehand. 

Opponents have decried the move as an unconstitutional poll tax but supporters say that fines and court costs are part of an ex-felon's sentence.

Many Iowa Republicans in the state Senate have expressed similar support, saying that victim restitution payments should be a requirement, The Register noted.

Some Iowa senators also want to exclude voting rights from people convicted of crimes like homicides and sexual offenses.

"I do not believe that rapists, child molesters or murderers should ever have those rights back," said state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R) said.