Voting rights

Make it easier to restore voting rights

Bill cuts waiting period for ex-felons from 5 years to 1

Feb. 4 last day for Committee of Whole in house of origin

A bill easing restrictions on restoring voting rights to non-violent felons looks likely to be heard on the floor of Wyoming’s House of Representatives Monday. The first floor debate in each house is called “Committee of the Whole.” If a bill is approved in Committee of the Whole, the Second and Third REading will follow on three consecutive days. (A bill can be amended in each of these three debates.) Since we’re at the halfway point of the 40-day General Session, any House Bills or Senate Files that are not brought up Feb. 4 for the first of these three potential floor debates in their chamber of origin will die. State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R –HD43, Cheyenne, long has sought to make it easier for non-violent felons to become voters. Wyoming, he said, imposes the “third-worst” restrictions in the nation limiting restoration of voting rights for felons. Virginia and Kentucky prohibit restoration of voting rights after conviction for any felony.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer

  This year Rep. Zwonitzer drafted HB 129 Voting rights, which would reduce the waiting period for restoration of rights from five years after completion of any sentence, probation and parole requirements to just one year. The Equality State Policy Center stands firmly in support of the measure as an effective way to help disenfranchised citizens become active participants in civic affairs. In Wyoming, nearly 6 percent of the population has been convicted of a felony, according to the American Civil Liberty Union’s Jennifer Horvath. She noted restoration of voting rights can improve public safety. Research has shown that former felons who vote are less likely to commit crimes. The Department of Corrections supports the bill, noting that part of the system’s rehabilitation efforts including promoting “pro-social behavior.” In short, people who can and do the right thing in one aspect of social life will act positively in other areas of life. The Equality State Policy Center conducts voter education and mobilization efforts in low-income precincts in communities across the state. Volunteer canvassers often are surprised at the high number of people they meet who cannot vote because they were convicted for committing a felony. Many ex-felons are not aware that they can or could have had their voting rights restored five years after completion of sentence. Zwonitzer’s bill improves the restoration process by turning it over to the Department of Corrections, where it can be integrated with other correctional programs. On completion of sentence, the person would be issued a certificate that notes voting rights can be restored one year later by filing an application to the department. An application would be issued with the certificate.

Also in Committee of the Whole …

Supporters of the idea of keeping public lands in public hands should watch what happens to House Bill 228 Transfer of federal lands – study. The measure seeks an $18,000 study of transferring all federal lands in Wyoming to the state or private individuals (I’ll take Titcomb Basin), except for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, Devils Tower and Fossil Butte national monuments, Fort Laramie, and the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. That’s right, all the U.S. Forest Service and BLM lands, including wilderness, and national wildlife refuges could be transferred not just to the state but to private parties. There’s another effort to undermine workers that could come up in Committee of the Whole in the House. House Bill 237 Unemployment – Worker misconduct would require the state to deny unemployment insurance benefits to workers who are terminated for “willfully” doing something the employer considers against her/his interests. This potentially could discourage reporting violations of workplace safety rules. The supplemental budget bill will be heard this week. The Legislature uses special rules for the bill, which follows mirror processes in the House and Sentate. It likewise must get through Committee of the Whole on Monday. Under the special rules, each chamber hears an explanation of the bill during Committee of the Whole but amendments are prohibited. Legislators are urged to bring amendments for Second and Third Readings. The mirror bills are HB1 General government appropriations and SF1 General government appropriations-2. The bills outline about $223.7 million in additional state spending. The Senate has only one other measure listed by Majority Floor Leader Phil Nicholas on its General File (the list of bills waiting to be heard). The measure, SF 109 Highway and road funding, would use a diversion of severance tax revenues to send $53.5 million to the Department of Transportation for highways; $14.3 million to counties for roads; and $3.6 million to cities and towns for streets. Those diversions would occur in FY2014. The amounts are projected to increase in FY2015 and 2016. On adjournment Monday, the Senate Transportation Committee will consider HB 95 Railroad crossings – on-track vehicles. The bill will require drivers to obey all crossing signals at railroad crossings when an “on-track vehicle” used by right-of-way repair crews approaches the crossing. The bill is a safety measure aimed at protecting both the public and railroad maintenance workers.

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