(The Center Square) – Iowa residents with felony convictions whose sentences have been discharged may regain voting rights automatically if a bill being considered in the Iowa House becomes law.
If passed, HF 818 ensures voting rights would be reinstated once a person convicted of a felony has completed sentencing, parole, and probation and paid any owed monetary damages prior to his or her sentence is discharged.
Individuals convicted of child endangerment that resulted in the death of a minor or election misconduct in the first degree would need to receive a pardon from the governor.
Americans for Prosperity is lobbying in favor of the bill.
“We look at all legal penalties and criminal justice reform through two main lenses,” Americans for Prosperity Iowa State Director Drew Klein told The Center Square. “First, does this actually improve public safety and second, will this help address the problem of recidivism?” Klein responded.
“Restricting voting rights does neither,” he continued. “It simply creates a permanent population of Iowans that are treated as second class citizens. If we want people to return to society as functioning, contributing members, we need to give them the opportunity and dignity associated with having a voice in their communities.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Aug. 5, 2020, that restored the rights of citizenship, except for firearms, to all convicted of a felony – except for “homicide and related crimes” under chapter 707 – who had discharged their sentences by that date. Anyone seeking a pardon or to have firearm rights restored has to send an application to the Iowa Board of Parole.
The bill, however, would provide a “permanent policy fix,” Klein said.
“This bill is an important part of the effort to end the permanent disenfranchisement of Iowans with a felony conviction in their past and it does it with respect for the rights of victims by carving out those convicted of the most heinous crimes and ensuring that people who are owed restitution don’t get short-changed,” he said. “Today, Iowa is the only state that still permanently restricts voting rights for all past felonies.”
Klein said the bill is directly related to HJR 11, a constitutional amendment “that is also moving this year to end the permanent disenfranchisement of all Iowans with felony convictions” as it further describes which felony convictions would be eligible for automatic restoration of voting rights and what discharging a sentence involves.
“Support has been broad for both the amendment itself and this clarifying statutory language,” Klein said. “In addition to Americans for Prosperity, faith-based organizations from across the ideological spectrum support the effort as well as groups such as the ACLU. Some of those groups are less comfortable with this bill due to the provisions requiring the payment of certain restitution.”
HJR 11 was introduced in the House on Feb. 25. The Iowa House Judiciary Committee passed HSB 231, HF 818’s predecessor, on March 5. The act would be repealed if a constitutional amendment is not ratified by Jan. 1, 2025.
According to the Iowa Department of Corrections FY2020 Annual Report, Iowa has nine prisons. The state’s imprisoned population was 7,573 at the end of the fiscal year. The return rate to prison in fiscal year 2020 was 39.8%, which was the highest since at least fiscal year 2007.