Bobbi Kauffman (file photo)

Republicans in the Iowa House tonight approved legislation to forbid paroled felons who owe victim restitution from voting if Iowans approve a constitutional amendment that automatically restores felon voting rights.

“We’re talking about somebody who potentially killed someone,” said Representative Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, “not just some dismissive bill they can’t pay.”

Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, is a criminal defense attorney. Wolfe suggested tonight was a strange time to pass the bill as over 1000 protesters 50 blocks from the Capitol were calling for criminal justice reform.

“It’s punishing people because they do not have the financial resources to pay a debt,” Wolfe said. “It’s a poll tax.”

Representative Ras Smith of Waterloo, a Democrat, said the bill exacerbates inequities in the criminal justice system.

“You are knowingly utilizing legislation to guarantee that poor Iowans are disproportionately impacted and shut out from the process to raise their voices,” Smith said. “That’s just what it is.”

Kaufmann said this bill was always “part two” of Republican lawmakers’ plans on felon voting rights.

“If I’ve got care-o-meter for the rights of the victim, it’s up here,” Kaufmann said. “And if I’ve got a care-o-meter for the rights for the people who committed the crimes and hurt them, it’s a lot lower.”

The bill goes to the governor, so attention shifts back to Senate Republicans who’ve balked at passing a plan to end Iowa’s status as the only state that bans felons from voting once they’re released from prison. In 2019, Governor Reynolds called on lawmakers to pass a resolution for a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore felon voting rights. She has resisted calls to accomplish that with an executive order, as former Governors Vilsack and Culver did.

Reynolds has streamlined the system for individuals seeking voting rights through applications she must review and approve.