Justice reforms have been a topic of discussion at the local, state and federal levels of governance for many years. At the end of 2018 we saw some action. The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act or FIRST STEP Act was signed by President Donald Trump on December 21, 2018, before the end of the 115th Congress. Senator Chuck Grassley urged fellow Republicans to pass the legislation. The act only impacts the Federal Prison System.
There is ongoing tripartisan discussion regarding the restoration of voting rights to convicted felons nationwide, including here in Iowa. Many hope that The First Step Act will be a launching point for state and local reforms which will have a much greater impact on the US inmate population.
I met with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, in part to discuss these matters last month. During my discussion with Tom Miller he stated that he was open to the automatic restoration of rights for Iowans that had served their time. He also agreed that medical cannabis laws were too strict and said that he expected hemp legislation to move this session. Miller and state agriculture officials are set to meet later this month to discuss these matters.
Gubernatorial candidate Jake Porter (Libertarian), met with Iowa Governor, Kim Reynolds, last Friday regarding justice reforms. Porter provided the Governor with information about specific Iowans that he had met with while campaigning that have had trouble getting their rights restored after serving their time. During the meeting, Governor Reynolds stood by her support for the automatic restoration of rights for Iowans who have served their time. As for what other criminal justice reform items she would like to see in the legislature, Governor Reynolds pointed to additional justice reform trends that have been taking place in other states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, Florida and Washington, D.C.
As of Tuesday, 1.4 million ex-felons will have their rights restored in Florida. Last November voters overturned Florida’s 1868 ban blocking residents with felony convictions from automatically having their voting rights restored once they served their sentences. In order to impact a majority of those involved in the Iowa Prison System, legislation would have to move through the state or local governments. Iowa State Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale), who chairs the judiciary committee, has recently stated that he was open to considering criminal justice reforms.