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As I write this column on Thursday I am listening to Senate floor debate and answering emails. I have been involved in a total of five subcommittees and two committee meetings throughout the day which started at 7:30AM this morning and it is now after 4:30PM and we are not done yet. Next week will be just as busy as we enter the first funnel week of the year, meaning Senate bills need to be out of Senate committees in order to be considered this year. This does not apply to bills that are in Appropriations, Ways & Means, or Government Oversight committees.

One of the first things we did this week was pass our education funding bills, Senate File 2164 and Senate File 2142. These bills together mean approximately $92 million in increased funding for Iowa schools. We are confident this amount is sustainable and responsible, allowing us to prioritize K-12 education and ensure money remains to fund other priorities, like public safety and easing the tax burden on Iowans.

Senate File 2164 continues to close the gap in equalizing the amount of funding the state sends per student in different districts. It also completes our promise to Iowa schools to level the playing field when it comes to costs associated with transporting students to school. This policy has been a priority for several years, and it means we were able to deliver fully on that promise. This bill is now on its way to Governor Reynolds for her signature.

The Senate also moved forward a bill regarding the restoration of voting rights for felons. This bill, Senate File 2129, is separate from the constitutional amendment that has been proposed and would only apply if the constitutional amendment is adopted. The bill clarifies the felons eligible to automatically have their voting rights restored upon the discharge of a sentence. It also requires a person to complete any parole, probation, or special sentence, and pay all victim restitution. This requirement does not include courts costs, fines or fees. The bill creates exemptions for automatic restoration of voting rights for those who have committed crimes like murder and rape. Felons would still need to contact the governor’s office to have their voting rights restored just as it has been. I fully expect this issue is not fully resolved for Iowa.

Voting is a fundamental, constitutional right granted to citizens of the United States, and it is time the Iowa Constitution clearly states that intention. Some local officials in Iowa have publicly discussed the possibility of allowing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections. A basic rationale for being a citizen or becoming a citizen of this country is the privilege to have a voice in determining its elected officials.

Senate Republicans are proposing an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to ensure only U.S. citizens can participate in elections held in the state of Iowa. Senate Study Bill 3113 is a short, simple proposal. It amends Article II, Section 1 of the Iowa Constitution to state, “only” a United States citizen is eligible to vote in Iowa elections. The bill also conforms to the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution, which was ratified in 1971, lowering the voting age to 18, with an exception for a primary election.

Lastly, the Senate debated a constitutional amendment, SJR 2001 which passed 32 – 18 to state the constitution does not provide a right to an abortion and to protect life. Abortion debates are frequently emotional and this debate was no exception. I was personally singled out during debate as were others and I understand why. As a pro-life legislator, I have accepted this practice as result of standing up for something I believe in. I have heard from many of you that supporting pro-life policies is important to you. Hearts and minds are changing on this issue as science becomes more clear about the life of an unborn child. SJR 2001 will allow the people of Iowa, not unelected judges, to decide how Iowa regulates abortion.