The Club Room of Newton’s Hy-Vee did not have many empty seats Saturday morning, as Democratic legislators took on questions from Jasper County residents. The brewing legislation surrounding voter ID and gun rights was discussed at length during the League of Women Voters’ final legislative coffee of this session.
The Republican-controlled Iowa House passed a bill earlier this month that would require voters to present a state-approved ID at the polls. Many county auditors, the League of Women Voters and other organizations oppose the legislation.
Critics say it will cost too much in a time when money is already tight, and there is very little evidence of voter fraud in Iowa. Opponents of the bill also raise concerns over voter suppression, particularly for the elderly and minorities.
Sen. Chaz Allen, D-Newton, had a commitment to an Altoona forum that conflicted with the Newton gathering and left after about 20 minutes. However, voter ID came up early, and Allen was able to share his thoughts.
“The bottom line is we’re down $131 million, and this is going to cost us money,” Allen said. “This doesn’t seem like it rises to the level of a spending priority right now.”
Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, voted against the voter ID bill in the House. He said a community like Newton, with a large number of elderly voters, would be particularly impacted by the ID requirement.
For those of us who have driver’s licenses and do not think twice about it, it may seem like common sense to install a voter ID requirement, Breckenridge said. But, when you visit with people at retirement homes who have had expired driver’s licenses for 10-plus years, you realize how it negatively impacts hundreds of thousands of people, he said.
“That’s what worries me,” Breckenridge said. “Some of them don’t have that current certified card that’s eligible based on the bill that’s proposed.”
According to a recent Des Moines Register poll, nearly 70 percent of Iowans support a mandatory voter ID. Supporters of the bill say it will help secure voter integrity.
A bill expanding gun rights that passed the Iowa House earlier this month took up much of the second half of the legislative coffee. The bill would alter several aspects of Iowa gun laws, including allowing minors to use handguns with parental supervision and changing the “stand your ground” laws to make it so a person does not have a legal duty to retreat before using deadly force.
Breckenridge, who has years of experience in law enforcement and handling firearms, voted against the measure. He said he supports Second Amendment rights, and he also supports responsible gun ownership. Breckenridge is not against minors handling guns, but he proposed people receive 20 hours of training before they could teach their children how to fire handguns.
“I want to make sure that if somebody’s going to be teaching their child how to shoot a handgun that they have the training, they have the understanding before they go out and do this,” he said.
Breckenridge, who is serving his first term, said he entered the legislature with the hope of solving problems and working with people who he disagrees with. After a few months at the Statehouse, a level of disappointment has settled in.
“I can tell you that, other than three of four smaller, non-controversial bills, it pretty much doesn’t matter what I say,” Breckenridge said. “And that’s disappointing.”
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