The Iowa Senate did not act on a proposed constitutional amendment last year after it passed the House that would grant full automatic restoration of voting rights for felons upon completion of their sentence.
Part of the reason for hesitancy was the need to define exactly what the boundaries would be for such an amendment.
This year, Sen. Dan Dawson has a bill that addresses those concerns.
He said he believes the issue has gotten to a point where it vacillates too much from one governor to the next. This results in a waste of taxpayer resources.
“I think, from a Senate standpoint, we do not believe that all felons are created equal and that all felons should have an automatic restoration of their voting rights,” Dawson said.
Despite suggestions from others, Dawson said last year’s bill from the House wasn’t a clean bill as terms weren’t fully defined.
“Every conversation I’ve had with House members last year and this year is that everyone has always been under the understanding that there are some persons out there who should not have the automatic restoration of their rights,” he said. “They still have the capacity to go to the governor for individual application, but for automatic restoration, there are a lot of concerns about that.”
The Senate plans to define the automatic restoration versus the individual process before authorizing an amendment.
“A lot of times you can authorize a constitutional amendment and those details don’t get worked out and there’s buyer’s remorse down the road,” Dawson said. “From our standpoint, we want to make sure there’s no buyer’s remorse down the road.”
This bill would be attached to the constitutional amendment, meaning if the amendment does not pass, the bill goes away.
Dawson said the idea that there should be full reinstatement for anyone is a “non-starter” inside the Senate Republican caucus.
“What we’re trying to say is, if you committed any crime in 707, the homicide chapter — murder, manslaughter, there’s a variety of crimes there — you have no ability to have an automatic restoration of your voting rights,” he said. “The reason why that’s important is we have a lot of people committing crimes out there, homicide, which for all intents and purposes meets murder in the first degree elements, but the defendant ends up going to court and taking a plea to murder 2 with a chance to get out before you die. To me, it’s incomprehensible that you send someone away to prison for 50 years, they have a potential chance to get out in 37 and a half years, then they would have an automatic restoration of their voting rights and they took away someone’s life? And guess what, that person never has the opportunity to vote again.”
In simpler terms, Dawson said if you kill someone, the person you killed can’t vote again and you shouldn’t have automatic restoration of your voting rights either.
They also address special sentences, like the sex offender registry. Sexual abuse in the second degree, Dawson said, gets 17 and a half years in prison.
“Sexual abuse second degree is not a good crime,” he said. “It could be an adult raping an 8- or 9-year old little girl. I don’t want that person voting for the local dog catcher, let alone the President of the United States. There is no justification for that person to have an automatic reinstatement of their voter rights.
“Nobody has been able to articulate to me an overall moral achievement to allow some person who raped a 10-year old girl to get back to voting as soon as possible.”
Finally, there’s a piece regarding victim restitution. Dawson said if a judge ordered a defendant to pay restitution to a victim, they should have to do that before voting rights are restored.
There’s also a question of why there’s only a push for voting rights and not, say, Second Amendment rights.
“I’ve been very blunt with all persons on this, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, it’s not a tier 1 or tier 2,” he said. “We don’t have some rights that are tier 1 that are untouchable, which I would say an extreme wing of advocates here that say voting rights are pristine and can never be infringed upon whatsoever, but with Second Amendment rights, those seem to be interchangeable and more of a set of guidelines as opposed to rights defined in our Constitution. It’s a right or it’s not a right.”
Ultimately, there are some people who have committed bad enough crimes that they’ve withdrawn themselves from society.
“They’ve basically opted out of society,” Dawson said. “And they’ve lost a whole set of rights.”
This bill is scheduled for a committee vote today.