The top Republican in the state legislature says he’ll try to pass a law that would overturn Governor Vilsack’s executive order that grants voting rights to felons. Vilsack signed the order July 4th, giving voting rights to felons who’ve completed their sentences and probation. But Republican House Speaker Christopher Rants of Sioux City has been raising objections since some haven’t paid their fines or paid restitution to the victims of their crimes. Whether it’s through a resolution, or legislation to require payment of restitution to get back voting rights, there are options. He says. “it’s more than just serving your time, it’s about paying your debt to society.” “You can’t undo what’s been done,” Rants admits, “but you can have a conversation about what the appropriate thing is, going forward.” The legislature reconvenes next January, and Rants says lawmakers who will be running for reelection in November of 2006 are “interested in who’s voting.” “If the Democrats go out and try to register every felon to vote,” he says, nobody can prevent it. Then, they’ll be registered voters. Before Vilsack’s action earlier this month, felons who’d been released from prison and completed their probation had to apply to have their voting rights restored. Because of Vilsack’s move, an estimated 30-thousand more Iowans may be eligible to vote in the 2006 election. With many legislative races decided by a few dozen votes, those 30-thousand new voters could swing the election. “I think the victims will still care, and that’s who we heard from,” says the Republican leader. “People who had property theft, had violence committed against them, those are the folks who are still out there wondering ‘Where’s the justice in this for me?'” Vilsack was also under pressure nationally to make the change because one-quarter of black Iowans old enough to vote couldn’t because of a felony record, and critics of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses cited that stat as evidence Iowa shouldn’t retain that status. Vilsack has responded to Republican critics like Rants by saying Republican George Bush, when he was governor of Texas, also enacted a law restoring voting rights to felons. Vilsack also says two state legislators who are Republicans were among those pressuring him to make the move.
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