RICHMOND, Va. — The partisan battle over Governor Terry McAuliffe’s attempt to restore the voting rights to 200,000 felons all at once has resulted in a proposed change to the state constitution from Republican state lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R – 3rd), has proposed a constitutional amendment that would remove Virginia’s Governor from the felon rights restoration process.
Under Norment’s proposal, nonviolent felons would automatically get their political rights back after serving their sentence, completing probation, and paying any restitution fees. Violent felons would not be able to get their civil rights back, and the General Assembly would determine what constitutes a “violent felon.”
“The amendment also eliminates the power of the Governor to remove political disabilities,” SJ223 reads.
Norment was one of the GOP state lawmakers who sued Governor McAuliffe over his executive action to restore the civil rights of 206,000 nonviolent and violent felons. The lawsuit claimed McAuliffe’s order violated his constitutional power. The Virginia Supreme Court sided with GOP lawmakers and struck down McAuliffe’s executive order.
Last month, the governor announced he had already restored voting rights to nearly 13,000 Virginia felons who registered to vote after he initially restored those rights in April with the executive order.
“I am also asking several members of the House to begin developing proposals that can be discussed when the General Assembly convenes in January. We very much hope the governor is willing to work with the General Assembly in a productive way,” said Speaker of the House William Howell, who also sued McAuliffe over the executive order.
McAuliffe condemned Norment’s proposal:
“This cynical proposal unmasks Republican leaders’ true motive, which is to permanently disenfranchise men and women and condemn them to a lifetime as outcasts from our Commonwealth. While no one condones violent felonies, enlightened societies believe that all men and women are capable of redemption. As such, we remain committed to giving them a path to full citizenship in our Commonwealth. Senator Norment’s proposal would enshrine in our Constitution Virginia’s status as an outlier among the American states. Senator Norment proposes to make Virginia one of the most restrictive states in America in depriving its own citizens of any and all means to restore their civil rights.
Senator Norment attempts to disguise this goal by couching his proposal as a means to ease restrictions against those who have committed nonviolent felonies, but the details of his plan expose that claim as a deliberate falsehood. In truth, this proposal is a step backward for those convicted of nonviolent felonies as well. His proposal would reinstate a burdensome requirement that individuals fully pay their court costs as a condition for the restoration of rights. This is an unfair demand that my administration eliminated as a modern-day poll tax on our citizens. We will not accept a punitive tax as a barrier to voting for the poorest Virginians. In addition, Senator Norment’s proposal would even restore a policy rejected by Governor Bob McDonnell requiring individuals to complete suspended sentences without supervision before their rights are restored.”
The General Assembly reconvenes in January. Lawmakers would take up Norment’s proposal during the 2017 session.