GOP state senators advanced a bill Monday that would restrict restoration of voting rights for Iowans who have committed certain serious crimes and who still owe restitution to their victims.
Senate File 2129 was designed to take effect only if Iowa voters approve a constitutional amendment that Gov. Kim Reynolds has requested for automatic restoration of voting rights to former felons. The Senate bill would require people who have committed murder or related crimes, or sexual assault, to continue to apply to the governor for restoration of their voting rights.
“I don’t want them voting for president of the United States, let alone the local dog catcher,” Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, said of murderers and sex offenders who do not receive life prison sentences.
Most of the objections to the bill raised by members of interest groups and the public centered on a provision that would require payment of all monetary restitution to victims before voting rights can be automatically restored.
Scott Clyce, 30, of Des Moines said he has a Class D felony on his record for repeated marijuana possession arrests. He said he served his sentence, completed probation and paid more than $30,000 in fines and court costs, but he still owes more. “If this bill was passed, it would take me a lifetime to be able to vote,” he said. “That’s very frustrating because this affects life as a whole. I can’t move forward.”
Dawson and Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said the bill draws a distinction between restitution owed to individual victims and money owed to the state. “I don’t care if you pay the government or not,” Schultz said.
Some opponents of the restitution provision likened it to an unconstitutional “poll tax,” saying it unfairly determines who can vote based on their ability to pay. Advocates of voting restoration noted the obligation to pay restitution would not end if a person’s voting rights were restored.
But Dawson responded: “It’s not a poll tax. It’s not a fee. It’s a murder tax. It’s a sexual assault tax.”
He said it’s appropriate to facilitate restoration of rights for individuals who have earned a second chance “versus blindly giving a second chance to some person who has done something so egregious they have not earned the right for an automatic restoration opportunity.”
The bill moves to next to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further debate.