Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has appointed a bipartisan advisory committee to examine ways of improving the process of restoring civil rights to certain non-violent felons without amending the state constitution.
Cuccinelli and Gov. Bob McDonnell, both Republicans, voiced support this year for a proposed constitutional amendment that would make the restoration of rights automatic for non-violent felons who have completed their sentencing, probation and restitution requirements. But the legislation died in a GOP-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee, just as it has in previous years.
The state constitution prohibits a convicted felon from voting “unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.” Cuccinelli will ask his advisory committee to examine alternatives to gubernatorial approval that would be permissible without amending the constitution.
McDonnell has restored civil rights for more individuals than any governor in the state’s history, but he and others argue that the process should not be left to the discretion of the governor.
“Ever since I was in the Virginia Senate, I have expressed a deep concern about unnecessarily ratcheting up several low-level offenses from misdemeanors to felonies – what I have called ‘felony creep,’ ” Cuccinelli said in a news release. “There are many people in our communities who have committed certain low-level, nonviolent offenses in the past, paid their debts to society, and then gone on to live law-abiding lives. There should be a way for willing individuals who want to regain their place in society to be forgiven, be given a second chance, and to pursue a path to regain their civil rights.”
Cuccinelli’s office said the committee members don’t necessarily share the attorney general’s view on the issue.
The members are: Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey Bryant; Dinwiddie County Commonwealth’s Attorney Lisa Caruso; K. Anne Gambrill Gentry, an assistant attorney general; Paul Goldman, former senior advisor to Gov. Douglas Wilder; Donald Santarelli, president of the Center for Community Corrections; Ashley Taylor Jr., former deputy attorney general; and attorney Henry E. Howell III.
– Michael Sluss