DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday signed into law a bill that would establish some restrictions if voters ratify a constitutional amendment automatically restoring felons' voting rights at the completion of their sentence—a proposal she hailed as a "compromise" to move forward the amendment, which is a top priority of hers.
Current law, the strictest in the nation, bans people with felony records from voting for life unless they successfully petition the governor to get those rights restored. The policy is enshrined in the state constitution and the governor has advocated for the last two years to pass an amendment to change that.
“This legislation allows us to implement our proposed constitutional amendment restoring the voting rights of Iowans who have completed serving their sentence," Reynolds said. "The right to vote is the cornerstone of being a part of any society, and I am proud of the broad coalition supporting this amendment.”
Under the the bill, which takes effect upon approval of the constitutional amendment, people with certain felony convictions would be excluded from getting their voting rights automatically restored. Those felonies include murder, attempted murder, homicide, election fraud and sex crimes. Those individuals can still petition the governor to restore their voting rights.
It also requires full payment of victim restitution—court-ordered payment of crime-related expenses to the victim by the offender—in order to get rights restored, which currently is not a requirement of the governor when she individually restores voting rights. She, instead, requires a payment plan.
The average restitution debt in fiscal year 2019 was about $11,000, according to the Iowa Judicial Branch. Democrats have criticized the payment provision as a "poll tax."
This legislation came about after the governor's fellow Republicans in the legislature, particularly the Iowa Senate, were reluctant to move forward with a blanket restoration without some restrictions and didn't advance the amendment in 2019. This year, they drafted and approved legislation that would kick in should lawmakers pass the amendment through two General Assemblies and Iowa voters say OK at the ballot box.
The Iowa House approved the restrictions bill Wednesday evening.
The bill was a sticking point for Republicans in the Senate to pass the amendment. Reynolds on Thursday called on the senators to approve it as the "next step in the process so the people of Iowa can vote on this important issue." The Senate is expected to vote on it Friday or Saturday.
The amendment, if approved this session, will need to pass another General Assembly, so next year or the following year, before it moves to the ballot for approval. The earliest that can happen is 2022.