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Gov. Reynolds submits proposal to restore felons' voting rights

Gov. Kim Reynolds as she delivers her 2019 Condition of the State Address at the state capitol. (CBS2/FOX28)

Governor Kim Reynolds submitted a proposed amendment to Iowa's Constitution that would restore felons’ voting rights upon completion of their sentence, including any probation or parole.

Right now, the Iowa Constitution states persons “convicted of any infamous crime” are barred from voting permanently. The Iowa Supreme Court has interpreted “infamous crime” to mean any felony.

Under the proposal, felons would get their rights restored when they are discharged from their sentence, including probation or parole but not including payment of restitution. Reynolds noted that full repayment is not essential for her to restore rights on an individual basis, as long as there is a "payment plan in place."

"I want to make sure we aren't making it stricter than what we already have," Reynolds said at a news conference Tuesday.

Some conservatives in the statehouse have expressed concern about any changes that don't include restitution.

"That's a starting point," Reynolds said of the proposal. "We're going to continue to meet with legislators to work on language that I believe will be the right language we can put in front of Iowans."

Reynolds first announced the plan during her Condition of the State address, saying restoration of voting rights should not be “in the hands of a single person,” which is why she said she wants to change the language of the constitution.

Changes to Iowa’s Constitution need approval from two General Assemblies and Iowa voters. The soonest the proposal would make it to the ballot is 2022.

"I believe Iowans recognize the power of redemption; let’s put this issue in their hands," Reynolds said during the speech.

Iowa and Kentucky are the only two states in the country that permanently bar felons to vote unless the governor restores those rights on an individual basis.

This proposal would bring Iowa more in line with 39 other states that either restore voting rights for felons at the discharge of their sentence or never take the rights away in the first place.

In the meantime, Reynolds office has indicated they are working to streamline the process for felons to petition the governor to get their rights restored, including waiving a $15 fee for a background check.

In 2005, Governor Tom Vilsack issued an executive order automatically restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions who completed their sentences; Governor Terry Branstad rescinded that order in 2011.

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