Lawmakers crush proposed voting rights for felons - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Lawmakers crush proposed voting rights for felons

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

A proposal to automatically restore voting rights to felons after their prison terms ended was overwhelmingly defeated by House Republicans Monday morning, despite the measure's strong support from Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Virginia is one of four states where felons do not automatically gain the right to vote once they leave prison. Instead, convicted criminals must appeal to the governor to regain suffrage rights, a process which can extend for years.

"As a nation that believes in redemption and second chances, we must provide a clear path for willing individuals to be productive members of society once they have served their sentences and paid their fines and restitution," said McDonnell in his 2013 State of the Commonwealth address. "It is time for Virginia to join most of the other states and make the restoration of civil rights an automatic process for non-violent offenders."

Currently, Virginia, Iowa, Florida and Kentucky do not return full voting rights to felons upon release. While lawmakers praised the Governor's restoration of rights to 4,423 felons, a higher number than any of his predecessors, members of the House Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee said more than 400,000 released felons are still disenfranchised.

"No matter how vigilant, how dedicated a governor is, and Governor McDonnell is just that, you're talking about [helping] one percent of the people who are disenfranchised," said Del. Joe Morrisey (D – Henrico). "We have to expedite the process so people can move on."

House Republicans easily defeated two versions of the bill, stemming from concerns that released felons should continue to go through a review process before voting rights are returned. Democrats have tried to pass similar measures for years, and expressed optimism a bill would pass with the support of the two highest ranking Republicans in the state.

"They are ashamed sometimes to tell people what they've gone through. And we want them to be productive citizens," said Del. Roz Dance (D – Petersburg). "And for me, that is a form of slavery."

Copyright 2012 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.

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