Governor Steps up on Felony Restoration

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.




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    Now, can the legislature make a concerted effort to remove felony status from those things that are not serious crimes?

    In the past, more frequently recently, legislatures have wanted to appear “tough on crime” by making things felonies. This is a DIRECT contributor to disenfranchising many of these people in the first place.

    Legislators should do the right thing and revise the code to eliminate this problem. Or are so many of our legislators lawyers who benefit from defending a person first, THEN restoring his rights?

  • DJRippert

    As always, the sitting governor heads into the last laps of his term as the candidates rev their engines in their campaigns to be the next governor. As McDonnell finishes his four year stint it may be useful to reflect on the election that brought him into office. During that election Creigh Deeds admitted that he would have to raise taxes to solve the transportation issues plaguing parts of the state. Bob McDonnell promised to use royalty payments from offshore oil and gas wells along with the proceeds from the sale of Virginia’s ABC stores to fund new infrastructure. We all know what happened. Gov. McDonnell did what Creigh Deeds said would be necessary – he raised taxes to fund transportation.

    All Virginians should remember the election of 2009 as we head into the election of 2013. Ken Cuccinelli is promising to lower taxes by reducing unspecified tax breaks given to “crony capitalists” in Virginia. Perhaps this thought came to him as he relaxed at the vacation home of Star Scientific’s CEO without remembering to report that gift. Bob McDonnell never got a penny of oil well royalties nor one red cent from the sale of the ABC stores. Instead, he raised revenues for the state by increasing the taxes on its citizens, just as Creigh Deeds predicted.

    We cannot allow Ken Cuccinelli to use the smoke and mirrors of past elections to again promise miracles which will never be fulfilled.

    Mr. Cuccinelli:

    1. Which tax breaks will you terminate in order to “pay for” your tax cuts?
    2. How will you get your proposed legislation through the General Assembly?

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

    We won’t be fooled again.