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McDonnell: restore rights for those convicted of nonviolent felonies

 Gov. Bob McDonnell
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Date published: 1/10/2013



--Gov. Bob McDonnell is calling for Virginia to make automatic the restoration of civil rights for those convicted of a nonviolent felony.

McDonnell announced the proposal in his annual State of the Commonwealth speech at the Capitol on Wednesday night, the first day of the General Assembly's 45-day session.

He also used the speech to announce a proposal to create a "statewide school division" with the power to take over failing schools, as well as a constitutional amendment authorizing private charter schools.

McDonnell had restored the civil rights of 4,423 felons as of Wednesday, surpassing the previous record by former Gov. Tim Kaine, who restored the rights for 4,402 felons.

State law requires those convicted of a felony to apply to the governor--after they've served their sentence--for restoration of their rights to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office and serve as a notary public. The restoration of those rights is not automatic upon completion of their sentence.

"While we have significantly improved and fast-tracked the restoration of civil rights process, it's

still an executive process," McDonnell said. "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. It is time for Virginia to join most of the other states and make the restoration of civil rights an automatic process for nonviolent offenders."

At least two delegates propose constitutional amendments to automatically restore some rights to felons. Del. Peter Farrell, R-Henrico, would restore rights to nonviolent felons. And Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, would create an automatic restoration of the right to vote.

But McDonnell's support doesn't guarantee passage. At least two Republicans with public-safety backgrounds said after the speech that they oppose automatic restoration of rights.

Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, a former police officer, was one.

"I'm a believer in forgiveness, but I also believe there should be a process to get that back," he said.

Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, an attorney and candidate for attorney general, said he thinks the governor is wrong on the issue, and that each case should be reviewed individually. Bell also said there is a wide range of offenses categorized as "nonviolent."

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