Restoration of felon voting rights clears first senate hurdle
DES MOINES — A resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences unanimously passed a three-member state senate panel Wednesday.
Two felons spoke at the subcommittee’s hearing. Sixty-year-old Rick Sattler of Iowa City was convicted of vehicular homicide in 2006 and is paying 150-thousand dollars in restitution.
“I’m not diminishing what I did. I feel terrible about what I did. I live with that every day,” Sattler said. “…That’s not what this is about.”
Sattler — and others around the room — said giving felons the right to vote is about redemption and second chances. Sheila Corsbie, a lobbyist for the United Methodist Church, was paroled in 2009 and is among the felons who applied to the governor to have their voting rights restored.
“Because of getting my rights back and becoming a productive member of society, now I am able to give back to people,” she said, “and I think if I wasn’t given my rights back, who knows where I would be.”
Rick Admiraal, pastor of New Life Prison Community at the Newton prison, said he sees inmates who want to change their lives.
“Part of changing your life is reintegration into the society after a person is released,” Admiraal said. “I strongly believe that we don’t need to punish people excessively, that we need to give them a second chance.”
Pat Stalter of Adel, a pastor of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ Church in Woodward, said she believes in second chances “without strings attached.”
“I believe in redemption. I believe in wholeness,” Stalter said, “and this legislative body has a chance to move into that space.”
Governor Kim Reynolds has made this issue a top priority. Kayla Lyon from her governor’s staff told legislators they were hearing “powerful” testimony today.
“She truly does believe in second chances and that’s why we’re talking about this today,” Lyon said. “She believes that the voting rights of a convicted felon should not be forever stripped and further she does not believe the restoration should be in the hands of a single person.”
Since Reynolds became governor, she has used her authority to restore voting rights to 122 paroled felons. The governor told reporters she’s granted two of those requests this week and she spoke to both applicants.
“I can’t even begin to describe to you their appreciation for that phone call and what it means to them to really get back their dignity and really become a better citizen in the state of Iowa,” Reynolds said during her weekly news conference Wednesday.
A month ago, a subcommittee in the Iowa House embraced the governor’s proposed constitutional amendment on felon voting rights.