By Barb Arland-Fye and the Iowa Catholic Conference
The Catholic Messenger
A proposed state constitutional amendment that would grant the right to vote to persons convicted of felonies who have completed their sentence now awaits action in the full Senate. The Iowa Catholic Conference encourages Iowans to ask their state senator to support the bill, House Joint Resolution 14, which passed the Iowa House by a vote of 95-2 and the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 10-4. (Go to the Iowa Catholic Conference’s website at iowacatholicconference.org and click on the “Take Action” button).
Iowa is the only state that by law permanently strips people with a felony conviction of their right to vote. The governor can return the right with an executive order.
In a related matter, the House passed and Gov. Kim Reynolds recently signed into law Senate File 2348. The law will prevent certain individuals from automatically receiving the right to vote when they leave prison, in the event that Iowa voters approve HJR 14. The new law applies to individuals who have committed homicide or voter fraud, sex offenders or individuals unable to pay victim restitution.
“Our Catholic tradition supports the community’s right to establish and enforce laws that protect people and advance the common good. But our faith also teaches us that both victims and offenders have a God-given dignity that calls for justice and restoration, not just punishment,” said Tom Chapman, executive director of the ICC. “In our view, returning the right to vote promotes the civic engagement of those reentering the community. It is a measure of mercy, dignity and justice.”
He reported on other legislation that Iowa lawmakers have been working on since their return last week to the State Capitol after a three-month pause due to the coronavirus. Other bills of interest to the ICC, which is the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops:
• Human trafficking: The Senate State Government Committee unanimously approved House File 2259. The legislation provides that a government employer could only use public funds to stay at hotels certified to have training on human trafficking prevention. Chapman said information shows that 70 percent of human traffickers use hotels and motels for trafficking activity. The ICC supports the bill.
• Housing vouchers: The House Judiciary Committee approved Senate File 2368. The bill forbids a city from requiring landlords to accept federal housing vouchers. The ICC opposes the bill because it’s more difficult for low-income people to obtain housing when landlords will not accept federal housing assistance.
• Pro-life: House Joint Resolution 2004 passed the Senate. It awaits action in the House. The ICC supports the bill, which would clarify that Iowa’s Constitution does not contain a right to an abortion. Chapman encourages Iowans to contact their state representative to support HJR 2004. This bill responds to an Iowa Supreme Court decision that a fundamental right to abortion exists in the state Constitution.
• Budget: Chapman anticipates that the legislature will begin work in earnest this week on budget bills.
In national news, Chapman said many church leaders have issued statements and taken other actions following the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests. For Catholic Church resources on racism, go to usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/index.cfm.