Bill aiming to restore rights automatically facing criticism, awaits vote in Senate

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Since last April when Governor McAuliffe issued an order restoring the rights of 206,000 former felons, there has been a battle between Republicans and McAuliffe.

The order led to a lawsuit the governor lost. Now, a senate bill aims to restore rights automatically and take the governor out of the equation.

774596070ce148a28327c32ac18ca33f“I think this is a tremendously positive step in the right direction which will deal very appropriately with most felons that want their rights restored,” Senator Emmett Hanger of Augusta County said.

Hanger is a co-patron of the resolution which would allow non-violent felons to get their rights back after paying all their court fees. Under the proposal, the governor would not have the power to give anyone their rights back and violent felons would never have their rights restored. The General Assembly would define who is a violent felon.

“If they define you as a violent felon, you never get your right to vote back, period, dot, ever, end of sentence. No governor’s review, no clemency, no nothing,” argued Claire Guthrie-Gastanaga with the ACLU of Virginia.

Guthrie-Gastanaga is against the proposal and says people should be able to vote while paying their court costs.

“This says until you pay it off in full you do not get to exercise your right to vote,” Guthrie-Gastanaga said.

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But Hanger says former felons should have to fully repay their debt to society.

“Much as you can make things right with those that you violated to become a felon that you make it right,” said Hanger.

The resolution would need to be approved by lawmakers in two separate sessions. Then it would be voted on by the state before it could be included in the state constitution.

“The bottom line is this process will allow many, many people to have their rights restored and to be able to participate,” said Hanger.

“To put this in the constitution is moving so far backwards into the last two centuries ago,” Guthrie-Gastanaga said.

The Senate will vote on the measure within the next week.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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