The Iowa Legislature is working to put parameters in place for exactly which felons would have automatic restoration of their voting rights.
Sen. Dan Dawson (R-Council Bluffs) said many discussions took place last year after Gov. Kim Reynolds made the restoration of voting rights for felons one of her priorities.
Over the last 13 months, Dawson said the Senate has had many thoughtful conversations in terms of moving the issue forward in a way that respects victims. As a result, Senate File 2348 was crafted. Dawson said it is a bill showing the Senate is making a good faith effort to compromise.
The discharge of sentence is broken down into three categories.
“First, if you took a life, if you committed a homicide in the state of Iowa, the appropriate place for the restoration of a voter right is not on an automatic route, but instead, an individual application to the Governor,” Dawson said.
The same applies to rapists or those who commit sex crimes.
Also, victim restitution must be paid in full prior to the restoration of the voting rights.
An amendment passed as Dawson said more clarity was needed. Child endangerment resulting in the death of a minor was added to the bill in the homicide portion. Election misconduct was identified as an item that shouldn’t receive restoration as well.
The amendment passed.
Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) offered an amendment that would’ve restored the voting rights of a felon who was on a payment plan to pay victim restitution.
“I believe this is important because it addresses this severe disparity that would exist for people based on their financial ability to pay,” Hogg said. “Rather than having somebody who was born into a lot of family resources being able to pay and get voting rights restored, there are other people who don’t have those resources and, as we know, it is very difficult for people who are offenders to then be able to get good jobs to earn the money.”
Hogg added that Reynolds has signaled she is looking for this information currently on voting rights restoration on her website. Currently the applicant must have completed payments or be current on a payment plan.
Dawson said he understands Hogg’s sentiment, but offered a solution.
“Don’t be a felon,” Dawson said. “Going out and committing a felony is not a random draw in the lottery of life. People make an affirmative decision to go out and commit ac rime. And with that, there has to be some consequences.”
Dawson said the payment plan could fall off the month after having rights restored.
“And what good do we do there,” he asked.
Sen. Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines) asked Hogg about a situation where someone was eluding law enforcement. And if that someone would damage the stop sign, restitution would be owed. And, if the stop sign was instead a Ferrari, then the restitution would be much higher.
“That’s the difference here,” Boulton said. “That’s why the payment plan is so important. Because you’re setting someone’s voting rights on pure luck of whether there was a Ferrari by the stop sign or just a stop sign there at that moment.”
Dawson pointed out Boulton using the term “pure luck.”
“At the beginning of your anecdotal story, you talked about someone eluding the police officer,” Dawson said. “Don’t elude the police. Don’t be a felon.”
Hogg’s amendment failed.
Dawson provided some fireworks in his closing remarks on the bill. He quoted Iowa Auditor Rob Sand who was quoted in the Des Moines Register about civil restitution.
“It’s kind of interesting, the state auditor has a lot of opinions around here that go beyond the scope of his job,” Dawson said. “In this quote, he said, ‘Dave should have this follow him around all his life or until he repays Iowans. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t have the money in hand at this moment, if he has a lakehouse somewhere, this should follow him. We shouldn’t say oh, nevermind.’
“That’s what your payment plan was.”
Dawson said he appreciates the ACLU for the positive conversations on the bill. Then he criticized some others.
“One of the things I was most disappointed about this process, was some of these outside extremist groups that consider themselves victim advocate lobbyists,” he said. “As well as a few in the media, who have all operated more like the auxiliary to MoveOn.org as opposed to anyone whose actually trying to advocate for victims in this state or trying to address this topic at hand.
“Some of these social justice warriors have been an embarrassment here these last 13 months — absolute embarrassment.”
Dawson said these groups have brought felons to the Capitol to have conversations with legislators.
“In some ways, the felons looking for a restoration of their acts have been more reasonable and more thoughtful than the advocates who have been allegedly fighting for them,” he said.
He said many felons said they did not want to be associated with a rapist or a murderer. One even agreed the victim should be paid back first.
“But you listen to the debate, oh my gosh, everyone needs an automatic restoration, carte blanche, no ifs, ands or buts,” Dawson said. “Which I find kind of humorous a little bit because on the one hand, the group is bringing felons up here to make a personal connection and when you look at the expression on the face of these group leaders when the felons actually talk and say they agree with some aspects of this bill, it’s absolute horror on their face.”
He then took aim at the Des Moines Register’s editorial board.
“Despite us working 13 months trying to find some kind of compromise here in the State of Iowa so Iowa is no longer the last state in the nation without some type of automatic restoration process, the Des Moines Register editorial board decides to run a hit piece last weekend,” Dawson said. “In their editorial, they don’t talk at all about the merits of the bill. they can’t explain at all about why murder should or shouldn’t be a part of it, rape should or shouldn’t be part of it, they kind of nibble around the edges on victim’s restitution a little bit.”
Dawson said they couldn’t even dig up a garbage study.
“Typically we always go to the Southern Poverty Law Center if you want some garbage study around here in the United States, right,” he said. “The Des Moines Register editorial board couldn’t even find that inside their editorial.”
Dawson said there is not one study out there that shows it is the lowest cost-effective way to reduce recidivism.
“Instead, what’s the Des Moines Register editorial board do? They go slash and burn politics which is what they’re best at,” Dawson said. “So instead of talking about the merits of the bill, they want to talk about the wrong-headed, ancient Greek philosophy and how the majority party wants to make voting as hard as possible. Even though the very substance of what we’re trying to deal with is to try to create some automatic pathway for voter restitution.”
Dawson added that the Register mentioned Iowa Republicans and GOP 10 times.
“You know how many times they mentioned victims in this whole process,” he asked. “Once. And that was when they had to spell out the term victim restitution to try to waylay across that.
“It amazes me the paper of record of Iowa cannot discuss a victim in this entire process.”
He then ripped up the editorial and threw it in the trash.
“Garbage,” he said.
The Register shows an aggressiveness to the Iowa ag economy, disgust with people of faith, contempt for the private sector and downright loathes Republicans, Dawson said before being cut off by Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) who called for a point of order.
Dawson moved on.
“Instead of adopting a view that all felons are now the new victim here in Iowa, what we’re trying to do here in the Senate is say, let’s bring this back to the victims, where this process all started to begin with,” he said.
“I know the comment was mentioned earlier on about ‘my world.’ Well, let me tell you about my world. Even though I come from Senate District 8, I like to think I live in a place called ‘Realville.’ And inside Realville, there’s bad people there and they do bad things. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves to believe that once they exit prison, all is well and they’re new members of society.”
Dawson discussed two examples of violent felons in Iowa. One was an Aryan gang in Nodaway, Iowa. Someone owed the gang drug money. The gang set up a phony buy, met the individual in his garage, beat him, hogtied him, gagged him, dragged him back into his bedroom area where they tortured him some more, and then shoot him in the head.
“Through the circumstances of the case, a few of those individuals got Murder II,” Dawson said. “They could technically walk out of prison and vote in an election. I posed this question weeks ago, and I still have yet to hear a concise answer from anyone in the lobby as well as the media, what is the value or what is the impetus to make sure that those Arian gang members have an automatic restoration to vote?”
In another Iowa town, a 7-year-old girl told her mom something inappropriate has been happening between her and her grandpa.
“Two years he’d rape her,” Dawson said. “Five-year-old little girl. Raped her in her bedroom, raped her in the upstairs, raped her in the basement, even raped her in the laundry room. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, by the way, let me say this, the grandpa, Class B felony, 17 and a half years. He could get out. Is that who we are really defending here today?”
Dawson said he is yet to see an honest discussion on the entire topic. He said he wouldn’t want those gang members or that grandpa voting for the local dog catcher, let alone President.
“I’ve heard a lot of concerns about the disparity between rich and poor, and paying back the victim restitution,” Dawson said. “That line of thinking I believe is personally insulting to poor people out there because there’s a whole lot of people with lower incomes that don’t commit families. My family, we were dirt poor. Dad had two jobs. Mom picked up a mail route where she’d take my sister and I around, we’d sit in the back of the car. You know what my family didn’t do? Commit a felony, like a lot of people here in the state of Iowa.”
Dawson asked what it says to a rape victim when, down the road, she shows up at a voting booth and sees her rapist there voting.
He asked about the victim of the Arian gang members, who left behind a 3-year old son. Dawson said he’s not so sure that the child left behind will believe those felons deserve the right to vote.
“The most disappointing part of this entire process for the last 13 months when we’re trying to find a way to more standardize this process is the absolute lack of discussion around the victims,” Dawson said. “We could probably sum up all the stories out there and sum up all the emails that we received from all the people in the lobby there, trying to make it seem like the felon is somehow the victim in all of this.
“Folks I got news for you, the felon is not the victim in this. There’s a lot of felons out there who have earned the pathway back. But to ask the state of Iowa and the voters should HJR 14 go forward and go to the vote, to blindly accept the premise that all felons are created equal?”
Dawson said some felons are individuals who check out of society. They commit actions that are so heinous that they have opted out of society.
“Not just your voting rights, but your gun rights,” Dawson said. “Some of the same individuals in that lobby who are so passionate about no restrictions, carte blanche voter registration, are the same ones every day who push legislation after legislation to mitigate another right, which is Second Amendment rights.
“The Iowa Senate is going to ensure that victims are included in this process. Not just words, not platitudes. To all of my colleagues here, I genuinely urge you to support this bill.”