Governor Ralph Northam announced the restoration of civil rights, including voting rights, to 69,000 felons. In the Tuesday announcement, Northam said would restore the rights for anyone who had been released from incarceration.
“Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Northam said in a press release.
The Senate and the House of Delegates face a disagreement over constitutional amendments to end felon disenfranchisement. SJ 272, introduced by Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) and HJ 555, introduced by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) both effectively restore felon voting rights after the term of imprisonment is completed. However, the two bills feature different language, and on Wednesday, the Senate shot down an attempt by the House to change SJ 272 to match HJ 555. Now, the two chambers will attempt to draft a compromise bill in conference.
Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) both pre-filed bills that would automatically restore felon voting rights after the felons complete their sentences including probation. After discussion in a subcommittee Monday, the two bills will be combined under HJ555, and subcommittee members unanimously voted to change the bills to automatically restore voting rights after the felon has been released from prison, before completion of probation or other elements of the sentence.
Attorney General candidate Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) has pre-filed a bill that would automatically reinstate felons’ voting rights after completion of their sentence. Governor Ralph Northam is also pushing for passage of the bill, HJ546.
“If you break the law in Virginia, you’ll be punished. But right now, part of the punishment follows you for the rest of your life—even after you’ve paid your debt to society. ” Northam said in his State of The Commonwealth address. “You lose your civil rights—like the right to vote—and you don’t get them back unless the governor acts to give them back.