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Date published: 1/15/2013
RICHMOND--Gov. Bob McDonnell's fellow Republicans dealt him a quick and decisive setback on a high-profile issue Monday, rejecting his plea for legislation to make it easier for some felons to regain their voting rights.
Less than a week after McDonnell's surprise endorsement of a proposal historically championed by Democrats, a GOP-dominated House of Delegates subcommittee killed the proposed constitutional amendment on an unrecorded but overwhelming voice vote.
The measure, if ratified by the voters, would have established a procedure for automatic restoration of nonviolent felons' civil rights after they complete their sentences.
McDonnell and Republican Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, who testified in favor of the bill at the subcommittee meeting, said they were disappointed by the panel's action.
"I believe strongly, as a matter of conscience, in protecting the constitutional rights of our citizens," McDonnell said. "And I believe that it is time for Virginia to join the overwhelming majority of states in eliminating our bureaucratic restoration process and creating a clear, predictable constitutional and statutory process."
Cuccinelli, this year's all-but-certain GOP nominee for governor, vowed to "continue to keep up the fight on this important issue."
Virginia and Kentucky are the only states that permanently strip felons of those rights. In Virginia, the power to restore those rights lies solely with the governor. Several lawmakers from both parties submitted legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to automatically restore nonviolent felons' rights to vote, hold public office and serve on a jury.
Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party and one of the sponsors of the legislation, said in an interview after the subcommittee's vote that she also was disappointed in the outcome.
"This has clearly become a nonpartisan issue with the governor's support, and I think the majority of Virginians support it," Herring said.
McDonnell has made good on a pledge to accelerate the process, setting a nonbinding 60-day deadline for administration officials to make recommendations on petitions.
When he endorsed making the process automatic in his State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday night, McDonnell also said his administration has restored the rights of more than 4,400 felons, beating the record set by his predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine.