House ‘second chance’ bills would help nonviolent felons, evictees

Iowa Capitol Dome
The dome of the Iowa State Capitol. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Iowa House of Representatives was in a forgiving mood Thursday. 

Lawmakers unanimously passed two bills that would give “second chances” to nonviolent felons and evictees under certain circumstances.

Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, said House File 831 would remove a Class D felony for a nonviolent offense from a person’s record, assuming the person paid all fines and restitution and completed their sentence. 

“This is a great piece of second-chance legislation that I believe we can all rally behind,” Hite said during debate on the bill. “This is a bill that acknowledges that people make mistakes in their lives, but we also believe that those mistakes should not follow them for the rest of their lives.” 

Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said some felonies would not be eligible to have the record of their conviction removed, on the advice of county attorneys. If the offense is removed from the records, it would not be considered under a law that prevents convicted felons from having a gun, she added.

Wolfe drafted the bill.

“This bill is a good example of bipartisan, common-sense criminal justice reform,” Wolfe said. “The enactment of this bill will have a positive impact on the lives of potentially tens of thousands of Iowans and will, over time, make Iowa a better and safer place to live.”

House File 820 also passed unanimously. 

“This is another great piece of second-chance legislation,” Hite said. “Many times our tenants in this state are hindered in finding residences because of Iowa Courts Online,” which lists legal actions, including evictions. “Unfortunately sometimes those court records are misconstrued, or misinterpreted or simply misunderstood,” Hite said. 

The bill would automatically expunge an eviction record  in cases in which “it is found that the tenant did nothing wrong,” Hite said. Another part of the bill would clear the record after three years if the tenant requests it after paying all court costs, fines and fees.

ACLU of Iowa Policy Director Pete McRoberts proposed much of the language in the bill, Hite said. 

Both bills need approval of a Senate committee before the end of next week to remain eligible for further debate.

Perry Beeman
Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.