In an overwhelming vote Thursday, the Iowa House approved a resolution to restore voting rights to felons who complete their sentences.
The measure passed the Republican majority chamber 95-2, buoyed both by strong bipartisan support and the backing of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican.
“Today’s strong bipartisan vote is a victory for Iowans who deserve a second chance,” Reynolds said in a statement following the vote. “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.”
The Senate may indeed prove a sticking point. In order to stay on schedule, the bill has to move out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by the end of next week, according to the Des Moines Register.
Committee chair Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) predicted an “uphill climb” for the measure in a conversation with the Register, as some Republicans want to exclude more violent crimes from the proposal.
“I do not believe rapists, child molesters or murderers should ever have those rights back,” Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) told The Gazette.
If the Senate passes it, the resolution will still require another vote of approval in a second consecutive legislative session. If it passes again the second time around, Iowa voters will then have the final say, with the proposed constitutional amendment appearing on a future ballot.
Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia are the only states where the governor has sole discretion over whether or not to restore individual voting rights to convicted felons.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Maine and Vermont are the only two states where felons never lose their voting rights, even while incarcerated, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Reynolds pushed the issue in her annual Condition of the State address in January. About 52,000 people in Iowa currently can’t vote because of a felony conviction.
“I don’t believe that voting rights should be forever stripped, and I don’t believe restoration should be in the hands of a single person,” she said in her January address. Those who complete their sentences shouldn’t “have to wait for my say or any future governor’s say before they get that dignity back,” she added.