Gov. Bob McDonnell used his annual State of the Commonwealth Wednesday to tout his transportation funding package, unveil additional education reform proposals, and call for the automatic restoration of voting rights for nonviolent felons. McDonnell said he supports proposed legislation for a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore civil rights, such as voting rights, to felons convicted of nonviolent offenses who have served their time. Currently applications for rights restoration must be made directly to the governor who then decides whether to restore rights on an individual basis.
“As a nation that believes in redemption and second chances, we must provide a clear path for willing individuals to be productive members of society once they have served their sentences and paid their fines and restitution,” McDonnell said, garnering his only standing ovation of the night. “It is time for Virginia to join most of the other states and make the restoration of civil rights an automatic process for non-violent offenders.” He noted that he has restored voting rights to more nonviolent offenders than any previous governor.
McDonnell may get his wish on this account as two Republicans in the House of Delegates — Greg Habeeb of Salem and Peter Farrell of Henrico — are pushing legislation for automatic restoration.
Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, chairwoman of the Black Legislative Caucus, was pleased that McDonnell is supporting an initiative that colleagues in her caucus have put forward for years, but was a “little disappointed” he didn’t recognize Democrats who are proposing legislation similar to Habeeb and Farrell. “But we don’t care how it gets done, as long as it gets done,” Locke said.