Gov. Reynolds forms panel to study criminal justice bias
ANKENY — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday that she plans to push lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights for felons next year and that she tasked a new working group with making recommendations for removing racial bias from the criminal justice system and helping reduce recidivism among former offenders.
Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, a former state public defender, was named chairman of the working group. Other members will be announced later.
Reynolds said that by December, she wants the group’s recommendations on how to reduce the number of repeat offenders, including ideas for helping them re-enter society after prison. These ideas will form the foundation of a package of legislative proposals she’ll take to lawmakers who convene in January.
“Over the next year, the committee will take up the very complex issue of bias-free criminal justice in Iowa looking at the full range of issues including policing, prosecution, judiciary and corrections practices,” she said.
Reynolds made the announcement at the 7th Annual Iowa Summit on Justice & Disparities, which was sponsored by the NAACP.
The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group that advocates for justice system reforms, says blacks in Iowa are imprisoned at 11 times the rate of whites, which is the third highest rate of any state.
Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska branch of the NAACP, said the NAACP has been working with Reynolds to create a group focused on improving the lives of black Iowans.
“These issues really do affect all Iowans,” she said. “Quite frankly Iowa is mostly white, so any time there’s felony voting issues or things that affect people disproportionally, it may affect African Americans, but in raw numbers they affect all Iowans.”
Reynolds, a Republican, also promised to keep pushing for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for felons after they complete their sentences. The measure passed the House with bipartisan support in April but died after some Republican senators refused to back it, dealing her a significant defeat on a key policy issue. The biggest obstacle was senators who said no one should get their voting rights back until they fully pay court fines, fees and restitution to their victims.
Reynolds said she is still working on a compromise.
Iowa is among only a few states that require felons to apply to state officials for permission to get their voting rights back.