Proposals to restore the voting rights of more than 70,000 Louisiana ex-felons on probation or parole got a chilly reaction from some state lawmakers Wednesday (April 26). The House Governmental Affairs Committee rejected one such proposal and persuaded a lawmaker to delay action on a similar bill until next week. Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith, D-Baton Rouge, pulled her House Bill 229 from a vote after her colleagues expressed concern about giving the vote back to people who have been on parole or probation for five years. The law affects about 71,000 people, roughly 1.5 percent of the state’s population. Similar proposals have died before in the conservative Louisiana Legislature. Smith introduced the bill after supporters of restoring voting rights struck out in court last month, when a judge told them they would have to get the law changed if they want the prohibition lifted.
Multiple ex-offenders told the committee they are law-abiding citizens who pay their taxes but may not truly participate in their communities if they are not allowed to vote. “People who are engaged in their community don’t commit crimes,” said Bruce Reilly, deputy director of the New Orleans group Voice of the Ex-Offender. Reilly, who is in his 40s, said he may not vote until he is 65 because of a murder he committed as a teenager.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, said he can’t support a bill that applies to all ex-felons without taking into account their crimes. He told Smith he’d work with her to tweak the proposal so that it might reach the House floor.