A Virginia House subcommittee has killed a proposal championed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell that would have restored voting rights to nonviolent felons, the Richmond Times Dispatch
reported Monday morning.
The GOP-dominated panel also turned aside testimony from Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in favor of the measure, a constitutional amendment, as long as it pertained only to nonviolent felons.
In his testimony, Cuccinelli noted that McDonnell and Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly had both "done spectacular work in bringing standardization and a methodical and reliable approach that bears on the side of forgiveness to this process."
For his part, McDonnell, who had called for the restoration of voting rights for some felons in his recent State of the State speech, said he was "very disappointed" with the decision.
"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," the governor said.
"As a nation that embraces second chances and believes in redemption, we want more productive citizens and fewer people returning to prison. Automatic restoration of constitutional rights will help reintegrate individuals back into society and prevent future crimes, which means fewer victims and a safer Virginia."
According to the Times-Dispatch, the measure appears to be dead in the House at the moment. But the newspaper reported that the Senate is expected to take up a similar measure at some point that if approved could advance to the House again.
The House panel's action also drew criticism from Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who during his time as governor restored voting privileges to some 3,486 nonviolent felons, according to records cited by the Times-Dispatch.
"It is very disappointing that this bipartisan legislation has been blocked at the starting point of a two-year process that would allow Virginia voters to weigh in on a common-sense step already in place in virtually every other state," Warner said in a statement.
"Restoring voting privileges to people who have completed their sentences, paid their fines, made restitution, and lived as law-abiding citizens is the right thing to do, and that’s why I made it a high priority when I served as governor," he added. "I encourage the Virginia Senate to move forward on its own versions of this legislation so that the House of Delegates will have another opportunity this year to consider this bipartisan approach to restoration of rights.”
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