Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order in April restoring the voting rights of more than 200,000 felons who had served their sentences.
The Democrat’s move took the Virginia executive’s power to restore civil rights further than any previous governor and led to a court challenge and eventually legislation. That legislation generated a bitter, partisan debate in the Senate on Tuesday over McAuliffe’s actions and Virginia’s history of hindering African-Americans from voting. In the end, the Senate voted 21-19, along party lines, to pass Senate Joint Resolution 223 from Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City. The debate came just as legislators reached crossover, the functional midpoint of this year’s 46-day session. In contrast to McAuliffe’s policy of liberally restoring rights, the Norment proposal would set criteria to curtail such power for any future governor.
It would require felons to pay restitution, fines, costs and fees associated with their convictions — something McAuliffe does not require. And for violent felons — as defined by the legislature — it would require a five-year wait following the completion of a sentence and any period of probation or suspended sentence.
Norment called his measure a step toward a consistent policy for felons to have their rights restored. Democrats called it a disingenuous attempt to suppress the black vote, prompting Republicans to say they were appalled by such “shameful” comments.