14th District legislators oppose bill to make it easier for felons to vote
Lawmakers say felons' obligations to victims should be met first
Democrats pushed a bill through the House Tuesday evening that would allow felons to vote, regardless of whether they have paid restitution to victims. The vote was 53-43. House Republicans, including Reps. Charles Ross and Norm Johnson, called it a slap in the face to victims.
Under current law, convicted felons in Washington are not allowed to vote until they have served their sentence and paid all restitution and legal fees. House Bill 1517 would give felons the ability to vote once they're released from state custody, including the completion of parole or probation.
Ross and Johnson said the bill is part of a disturbing trend toward more “hug-a-thug” measures being advanced in the Legislature that would put the rights of felons before those of victims.
“We're talking about felons who have done irreparable damage to their victims,” said Ross, R-Naches. “By letting criminals vote before they have paid off their debt, we're telling victims that the permanent damage they suffered doesn't matter. In addition, I want to know how many felons have asked to have their voting rights restored early? I don't think criminals are too concerned with returning to their civic duties.”
“Why would we want to reward a convicted felon who has victimized people and has not met all of the court's obligations, including restitution? What kind of message does this send to the victims who have endured the heinous crimes committed against them?” asked Johnson, R-Yakima. “If this is a way of reforming criminals, we're heading in the wrong direction.”
Proponents of the measure said it's not possible to know whether or not a convicted felon has fully repaid their restitution, adding that this new law would clear up the confusion.
Johnson called that a bad excuse.
“If a court imposes a sentence, I can't imagine that there's no follow-up. If the courts are not keeping on top of ensuring restitution is paid, then we need to make sure they're doing their job and not let the criminal off the hook,” Johnson said.
“Our state should be looking to provide an elections system that citizens can be proud of, not looking to take the easy way out,” Ross said.
Both Johnson and Ross didn't buy the argument that Washington should go the way of other states which have relaxed voting restrictions against felons.
“The 'keeping up with the Joneses' argument is ridiculous,” said Ross. “Washington has its own authority over rules for a reason. We need to be adopting policies that are best for our state, not following other states. I know the families of children murdered by gangs would not appreciate the majority party's action to ignore the financial debt of felons, and I cannot stand for it.”
“I don't care, frankly, how Idaho, Oregon or any other states carry out their prison sentences and restitution requirements. I'm concerned about Washington. I was elected by the people of the 14th District to represent them,” said Johnson. “We have a high crime rate in Yakima County. I believe my vote against this bill was representative of more than 90 percent of the people in my district who want criminals to fully pay their price to society, and be held accountable for their actions. It's too late to block this bill in the House, but it's my hope the Senate will stand up for victims and stop this bill.”
###Washington State House Republican Communications