What’s wrong with this picture: Democrats leaping to their feet to give Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell a standing ovation. The ACLU praising him. Tough-on-crime GOP legislators denouncing perhaps the most significant criminal justice initiative of the final year of his term. Welcome to Virginia’s version of Bizarro World _ the 2013 General Assembly. McDonnell opened the session by advocating legislation that would allow nonviolent felons to regain their civil rights, including the right to vote, once they finish their sentences. By doing so, he co-opted a perennial Democratic issue and clashed with conservative Republicans bent on preserving their law-and-order credentials in an election year.
“I don’t agree with that approach,” Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle and a candidate for the GOP nomination for attorney general, said minutes after McDonnell made his surprise announcement in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech. “The current system allows an individual review. If someone has gone straight and gotten their life in order, they can get their rights restored.”
Virginia and Kentucky are the only two states that permanently strip felons of their rights to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office and serve as a notary public. In Virginia, the power to restore those rights lies solely with the governor.
McDonnell has made good on his promise to accelerate the process, setting a nonbinding 60-day deadline for administration officials to act on petitions. As a result, he has restored the rights of more than 4,400 felons _ eclipsing the previous high mark set by his predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine.
According to the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based nonprofit group that advocates for sentencing reform and alternatives to prison, about 350,000 Virginia felons who have completed their sentences are barred from voting. That’s second only to Florida’s 1.3 million.
Despite the governor’s efforts on this issue, Democrats were surprised by his plea that they support a proposed constitutional amendment to make restoration of rights even easier.
“I was shocked,” said Del. Charnielle Herring of Alexandria, the state Democratic Party chairman who was among the first to stand and cheer McDonnell’s announcement Wednesday night. “I knew this was an important issue to him personally, but I did not see that coming.”
Full Article: Va. gov praised, panned on felons’ voting rights – WTOP.com.