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Va. House Panel Rejects Felons' Rights Bill

UPDATED 5:54 PM January 14, 2013

One of Governor Bob McDonnell's hot topics in his 2013 State of the Commonwealth address was the right for non-violent felons to have their right to vote automatically restored after they finish their sentence. Monday, a Republican dominated Virginia House Committee killed the bill during it's early stages.

Delegate Charneile Herring, D-Alexandria, said after the meeting, "The committee in my opinion is a little bit extreme and they don't even see that after somebody pays their debt to society, they deserve a second chance."

Non-violent felonies can include a wide range of offenses.

"We're talking about cases such as somebody writing a bad check for more than $200. Simple possession any small amount of drug. So, crimes like that, very low level non-violent offenses", explained Scott Goodman, a Charlottesville Lawyer.

Virginia one of only four states where at the end of a prison sentence, does not automatically mean felons have the right to vote. The other states are Iowa, Florida, and Kentucky.

Felons in Virginia have to appeal to the Governor to restore their voting rights. The process can sometimes be long and costly.

Goodman stated, "The real question is, why should someone have to go through all of that for a non-violent felony offense which took place, often, many years ago?"

Governor McDonnell responded to the vote by saying he's disappointed. The statement in it's entirety is below.

“I am very disappointed in today’s vote against these constitutional amendments. Once individuals have served their time, and paid their fines, restitution, and other costs, they should have the opportunity to rejoin society as fully contributing members. As a nation that embraces second chances and believes in redemption, we want more productive citizens and fewer people returning to prison. Automatic restoration of constitutional rights will help reintegrate individuals back into society and prevent future crimes, which means fewer victims and a safer Virginia.

“When I ran for Governor, I pledged to institute the fastest and fairest restoration of rights process in Virginia history. We have approved more applications for the restoration of rights than any prior administration. We are acting on completed applications in 60 days or less; far quicker than prior efforts. While it is a faster process, it is still an executive branch process. A person convicted of a non-violent offense, who has served their time, and paid all their fines and costs, should be able to then regain the right to vote and begin their life again as a fully engaged member of our democracy. A constitutional right deserves a constitutional amendment so that all applicants are treated equally across administrations.

“I believe strongly, as a matter of conscience, in protecting the constitutional rights of our citizens. And I believe that it is time for Virginia to join the overwhelming majority of states in eliminating our bureaucratic restoration process and creating a clear predictable constitutional and statutory process. I appreciate the support of Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for this measure. Our Administration will remain committed to seeing Virginia put in place an automatic restoration of rights process for non-violent felons. It is the right step to take.”

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