By Sam Isaacs, Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A Senate subcommittee tied 3-3 Tuesday on proposed constitutional amendments — including one proposed by Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th) — to restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who’ve completed their sentences.
The vote occurred in the constitutional amendments subcommittee of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. The tie vote is adequate to send the matter to the full committee for consideration.
The subcommittee considered constitutional amendments proposed by Democratic Sens. Chap Petersen of Fairfax, Louise Lucas of Portsmouth and Donald McEachin of Richmond. The panel combined the measures and then voted on them.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and other officials spoke in favor of automatically restoring the voting rights of nonviolent felons. Currently, felons must petition the governor to get their rights back.
“Thank you to the governor’s policy staff and Attorney General Cuccinelli who both came today to speak in favor of the bill. They were joined by the ACLU and Catholic Conference, so it was a pretty wide spectrum politically,” Petersen said.
The three subcommittee members who voted in favor of the proposal were McEachin, Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County and Republican Sen. Jeffrey McWaters of Virginia Beach.
Voting against the proposal were Republican Sens. Ralph Smith of Roanoke, Bryce Reeves of Fredericksburg and Stephen Martin of Chesterfield. Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Tazewell, was not present for the vote.
Under Petersen’s original proposed amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 266, felons would have their rights restored after serving their prison time and completing probation.
The words "nonviolent" were not a part of Petersen's original proposal, but appear to have been added as the subcommittee combined amendments.
Petersen stressed the importance of the proposal as it heads to the full committee for consideration.
“One thing to note: It is important that restoration be automatic and without strings attached for qualifying Virginians,” Petersen said. “That is what the governor requested during the State of the Commonwealth address.”
The Senate subcommittee’s action came a day after a House subcommittee voted down similar measures.
This article has been updated.