SJ 273 goes to House committee that narrowly defeated similar billRichmond, VA - The Virginia Senate today passed a bill that could be the first step in ridding the state of an antiquated constitutional provision that permanently removes the right to vote from individuals who have committed felonies.
Patroned by Senator Yvonne Miller, SJ 273 would allow the General Assembly to regulate the process by which voting rights are restored for non-violent felons who have completed their sentences. A House version of the bill, HJ 628, patroned by Delegate Onzlee Ware, was narrowly defeated on a 10-12 vote last Friday in the House Privileges and Elections Committee, which did not allow time for a public hearing on the measure. The House P & E Committee will now take up the nearly identical Senate bill.
“Now that the Senate has passed the bill, there are only two Delegates standing in the way of a vote of the entire Virginia legislature,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We believe that the bill will get the support it needs if there is hearing before the House Privileges and Elections Committee, in which the origins and objectives of the bill can be fully explained.”
Once widespread, Jim Crow era felon disfranchisement laws have all but disappeared in recent years. Only two states in the entire nation -- Virginia and Kentucky -- still permanently disfranchise all felons, requiring an act of the governor to have such rights restored.
Approximately 300,000 Virginia residents cannot vote as a result of this law. Only a few thousand have their rights restored in any year by applying directly to the Governor.
“This is a fundamentally unfair law that denies hundreds of thousands of tax-paying Virginians of their right to vote,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “It is also the last formal vestige of Jim Crow in Virginia, a policy that, like poll taxes and literacy tests, was invented to prevent minorities from voting.”
Surveys show that former felons who register to vote are half as likely to commit crimes as those who do not vote. Surveys also show that a majority of Virginia voters favor automatic restoration of voting rights for non-violent felons who have completed their sentences. Most major newspapers in Virginia have endorsed reform of Virginia’s felon disfranchisement law. (For more information, go to www.restoreourvote.org.)
Reform of Virginia’s felon disfranchisement law requires a constitutional amendment, meaning a resolution must pass this year and again next year, followed by a voter referendum.
Contact: Kent Willis, 804-644-8022