Leaders in the Iowa Legislature have deadlocked over whether felons who’ve done their time and completed their parole should be able to vote. Governor Vilsack has announced he will restore voting rights to felons who’ve completed the terms of their parole. Republican House Speaker Christopher Rants of Sioux City today tried but failed to get the Legislative Council to formally ask Vilsack to deny voting rights to those who’ve failed to pay their court fines or pay restitution to their victims. “I believe that paying your debt to society is not the same as just having served your sentence,” Rants says. “I believe that paying your debt to society goes one step further and that includes paying restitution to the victim.” Eight members of the Legislative Council backed the resolution Rants offered but eight voted against it — a tie that means it failed to pass. House Democrat Leader Pat Murphy of Dubuque ridiculed Rants. “It’s nothing but two-ply toilet paper,” Murphy says. “It’s a resolution that doesn’t mean anything, that’s non-binding, that says ‘Governor, please don’t do this.'” Rants says Murphy’s comments are offensive. “I think victims would take issue with that statement,” Rants says. “I think victims’ rights and what victims have owed to them is worth a lot more than toilet paper. I think that’s an unfortunate use of words on his part.” Murphy rejects that.”This resolution doesn’t mean anything,” Murphy says. “It’s non-binding and (asks) the governor to do something which he will ignore anyway.” Murphy says the governor has the authority to restore voting rights to felons, and if Rants objects, then he should run for governor and do it differently. Murphy accuses Rants of political grandstanding. “The speaker brought up Roger Bentley,” Murphy says. “If Roger Bentley’s found guilty of the crime he’s charged with, he’ll never have his voting rights.” Bentley is the man charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering 10-year-old Jetseta Gage of Cedar Rapids this past spring. Rants says he called Governor Vilsack’s staff Friday to ask him to deny voting rights to felons who haven’t paid restitution to their victims. “I think those kinds of things are equally important to the amount of days that (felons) spend in the county lock-up,” Rants says. He says the governor’s staff told him Vilsack would not reconsider his decision. Also today, the Legislative Council approved creation of a committee that will review Iowa’s criminal laws, with particular focus on laws that deal with sex offenders.
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