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Lawmakers vote down automatic rights restoration for felons

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – A house subcommittee shot down several proposed constitutional amendments that would have automatically restored voting rights to non-violent felons who served their time.

“I am very disappointed in today’s vote against these constitutional amendments,” Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said in a statement following Monday morning’s vote. “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.”

Currently, only the governor has the power to restore a felon’s civil rights under a case by case basis.

Some committee members said the automatic restoration was too broad.

“Even the governor himself has rejected about 10% of the applicants, as he should, and that’s why I think it’s a good process,” said Delegate Jackson Miller (R – Manassass) who voted against the amendments.  Miller said the current process is effective.

Delegate Charnielle Herring (D – Alexandria) sponsored one of the resolutions that was killed.

“This 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,” Herring said.

“The bottom line is if you paid your time, when is your crime resolved,” says Lisa Kratz Thomas.  Thomas was convicted of forgery 25 years ago and had her voting rights restored in 2007. 

Thomas testified in front of the subcommittee Monday.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an announced candidate for governor, offered his solution to the issue.

“I have long railed against politicians ratcheting up several low-level, nonviolent offenses from misdemeanors to felonies — what I call ‘felony creep.’ Many lower-level offenses should not result in the permanent loss of civil rights for individuals That’s why we ought to make it easier for those who have committed certain nonviolent offenses and served their punishment to regain their place in society,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “I am in favor of setting out in the code a list of selected nonviolent felonies for which restoration of rights would be available.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe also disagreed with the outcome of the vote.

“I was disappointed to see today’s subcommittee vote against bipartisan legislation to restore voting rights to Virginians who have served their time and paid their debt after non-violent convictions,” McAuliffe said in a statement. “Our nation has been built on this fundamental right and partisan gridlock should not be allowed to block this legislation.  I applaud Governor McDonnell for his support for the legislation and strongly encourage the House and Senate to do the right thing and advance this bill.”

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