Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers
Des Moines Register. December 12, 2018
Iowa leaders should restore voting rights for felons
Iowa’s justice system does a good job of punishing criminal offenders with fines, incarceration and other penalties. Our state needs to do a better job of helping those who paid for their crimes become positive, contributing members of our communities.
We should all want that. Unfortunately, Iowa continues punishing and alienating people after they have served their time.
Iowa and Kentucky are the only two states that automatically bar every person convicted of any felony from voting for life. The only way to have the right to vote restored is to successfully beg the governor. This has resulted in flip-flopping and in politicized, confusing policy changes.
Once people have been freed from incarceration, permanently stripping them of a fundamental constitutional right makes no sense and is unfair. That is why the vast majority of states don’t do it. It is why Florida voters recently approved a ballot measure to restore rights for most felons who have served their sentences.
Then there is Iowa, where at least 52,000 people are unable to vote in elections because of felony convictions. This is thanks to Article II of the codified Iowa Constitution, which states a person “convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector.”
Of course, when the constitution was written, the term “infamous crime” may have applied to only a handful of horse thieves and claim jumpers. The folks in the 1840s could not have imagined thousands of people would be sent to prison for drug crimes and forever barred from voting. There were no drug crimes back then, nor a lot of other crimes.
Today, Iowa interprets infamous crimes to mean all felonies. In this state, those include a third conviction for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, burglary, assault and even property damage.
After a legislative advisory board recently recommended that Iowa restore felon voter rights, Gov. Kim Reynolds indicated she is open to the idea. That is good to hear, and she doesn’t need anyone’s permission to act. She can sign an executive order and immediately restore voting rights to felons.
Governors across the country have done this. It is what former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack did in 2005. Rights were restored for six years — until former Gov. Terry Branstad took office and rescinded the order.
Yes, an executive order can be reversed by the next governor, which is the nature of every such order. But Reynolds could sign one now to send a message to lawmakers she is serious about addressing this issue. Or she could tell lawmakers that if they fail to act in the upcoming legislative session, she will move on her own and sign an order when the session ends.
We also call on the Iowa Legislature to amend state law to make clear that nonviolent crimes do not disqualify people from voting and that the right will be automatically restored after a criminal sentence is served. Legislative action would end the whipsaw of executive-order changes from governor to governor.
Lawmakers can also begin the more lengthy process of amending the Iowa Constitution to eliminate the infamously antiquated phrase in question. That requires passage in two consecutive legislative sessions and approval from voters.
Rekha Basu: For New York inmates, voting in midterms was ‘profound, empowering experience’
More: Here’s why you should care whether Congress finally passes criminal justice reform
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to imagine the GOP-controlled Legislature will make felon voting rights a priority. This is largely the same group that approved a voter ID law imposing unnecessary barriers to casting a ballot.
In fact, after Reynolds said she was open to change, a reporter called the spokesperson for GOP Senate leaders, who declined to comment. A spokesperson for House Republicans said the caucus hasn’t met to discuss the issue.
In other words, this doesn’t seem to be a top legislative priority for the party in power. It should be.
People who pay their debts to society for wrongdoing should be able to start fresh. Permanently marginalizing them makes it harder for them to feel like a part of their community and build better futures.
No one understands this better than Reynolds, who has talked openly about the day 18 years ago when she was driving with an open container of whiskey and was pulled over for her second drunken-driving arrest in 18 months.
If she had three convictions for that offense, she would be among those who committed “infamous” crimes and would have lost the right to vote. Instead, she is now is in a position to lead the state toward compassion and common sense on this issue.
Iowan describes voting as ‘humbling and empowering’
The Brennan Center for Justice compiled stories from people across the country who voted for the first time in November 2008 after having lost the right to vote, then regained it, following a criminal conviction. The My First Vote project includes Iowan Terry Sallis of Newton, who voted in an election for the first time at the age of 57. Here is an excerpt of his statement:
“With a new outlook on life I returned to school at the age of 50, ultimately completing my Master’s degree in Social Work at the age of 55. I wanted to be that positive role model to young disenfranchised African-American males. Now I was about to participate in an exercise that in my mind would fully restore my rights as a citizen. The feeling was humbling and empowering. The sense of hopelessness and questioning of your self-worth, which goes hand in hand with the loss of citizenship, seemed to vanish once I had voted. I hope everyone understands the importance of having your citizenship and voting rights restored. It instills a sense of hope and belief that if you do the right thing, society is forgiving and there will be opportunities to succeed.”
Fort Dodge Messenger. December 13, 2018.
US beef now on market in Morocco
Selling American agricultural products internationally makes an important contribution to our nation’s economy. It’s also hugely significant for the Hawkeye State.
According estimates by the United States Department of Agriculture, agricultural exports support more than 1 million American jobs. Consequently, whenever changes make foreign sales easier they are welcome. In that regard, a new trade pact with Morocco is an encouraging development for our nation and for Iowa. The door to U.S. beef and beef product exports to this African nation has just been opened as a result of the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement. Morocco had previously prohibited the import of U.S. beef.
“Finding new markets for American agricultural products has been a priority for the Trump Administration from day one, and the opening of the Moroccan market is good news for our producers,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in announcing the agreement on Dec. 6. “American beef is the best in the world, and once Moroccans get a taste of it, they’ll surely want more.”
American beef exports are a major component of worldwide sales of beef and beef products according to information released by the USDA. The department indicates that the United States is the world’s third largest beef exporter. The sale of American-produced agricultural products to Morocco in 2018 had already reached more than $512 billion in November according to the USDA. The department predicts that Morocco will initially be a market for about $80 million in sales of beef and beef products.
The Messenger applauds this development. The hard work by Trump administration officials to enable U.S. beef sales in Morocco deserves strong praise. Opening opportunities for more robust American agricultural sales worldwide will help reduce the trade deficit that has plagued our nation in recent years. It will also directly help our state prosper.
Sioux City Journal. December 13, 2018
Residents have role in clearing streets of snow.
As we write this, no snow is in our immediate local forecast, but it is, of course, just a matter of time before city snowplows hit the streets again.
In our view, the snow emergency declared in Sioux City for the first snowstorm of the season earlier this month worked well again, overall, for cleanup of streets and it’s a policy the city should continue to use moving forward.
In late 2016, the city made prudent tweaks to its snow emergency policy in order to address the consistent frustration of unmoved, buried vehicles hampering efforts to clear streets after snowstorms.
As a result, if the mayor declares a snow emergency, the following happens: On streets where parking is allowed on either side, residents can park on the even side on even-numbered days and the odd side during odd-numbered days. On streets where parking is permitted on only one side, residents aren’t allowed to park where parking isn’t allowed normally. All authorized city staff, not just police officers, are allowed to ticket violators.
Because not everyone follows the rules, one suggestion we offer for consideration about the policy is embrace of a more aggressive approach toward vehicle owners who ignore snow emergencies by writing more tickets and, if necessary, towing vehicles.
Snow removal by the city is fair game for criticism by the public who pays for the service, as is true of any city service, but residents share responsibility for cleanup of streets in the wake of snow.
Simply put, it’s incumbent on the public to move vehicles so operators of snowplows can do their jobs. The more cooperation, the more efficiently the job gets done.