Today, the Governor will be announcing some major reforms in the way that the Commonwealth handles restoration of felony rights.
Currently, the Virginia Constitution disenfranchises anyone convicted of a felony, unless they are specifically restored to their rights via petition to the Governor. Historically, that petition process has been confusing, contradictory and only reached 1% or fewer of the eligible persons. Meanwhile, the Assembly has extended the scope of “felony” to dozens of new legal violations, ranging from repeat DUI to jostling a peace officer.
Last year, I joined several others in bringing bills to amend the constitution and automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons. Surprisingly, we gained an ally in the Governor who endorsed our proposals and filed his own legislation to amend the Constitution to automatically restore rights for non-violent felons. The legislation passed the Senate with a comfortable margin, but foundered in a House subcommittee.
I talked to the Governor’s policy staff yesterday and got the update. Today, in the absence of a constitutional mandate, the Governor will be announcing a series of Executive Branch reforms to streamline restoration for those nonviolent felons leaving our system, e.g. by “pre-clearing” them while they are still with the Department of Corrections and then subsequently treating their release as an automatic petition for restoration.
This is a good idea. I’d like to be at the Governor’s press conference but the vicissitudes of professional life prevent me from making an all-day trip to Richmond. Anyway, I’m happy to support him from a distance on this important issue, which may not benefit him politically but does improve our democracy in Virginia.