/Voting rights restoration for 16 former felons clears Legislature after two lawmakers push to find common ground

Voting rights restoration for 16 former felons clears Legislature after two lawmakers push to find common ground

Bryan stated that between the committee members voting against all attempts to restore voting rights for felons and those who might vote yes, he was concerned that no suffrage bill would make it past his committee to reach the full Senate chamber. Bryan’s deskmate and a member of the committee, Sen. Angela Turner Ford, D.West Point, was also concerned about the fates of the suffrage legislation. Bryan heard her concerns and asked about Bryan’s criteria for voting on the legislation. Bryan stated, “I told her that she should tell the committee what I told her.” She did. The gates started to open after that conversation. The legislative process resulted in 16 bills to restore voting rights for felons passing and now before Gov. Phil Bryant. 16 may seem like a small number in a state where nearly 10% of the adult population is disenfranchised by the Sentencing Project due to a felony record. It is however the highest number of felons to have their electoral rights restored since 2004, when 34 were disenfranchised. Turner-Ford stated that she only asked members of the Senate Judiciary B Committee what criteria they used to restore voting rights. One member stated that the felon must be released from prison for five years before the right can be restored. Another said the felon should have paid all restitution. Turner-Ford stated that no member of the committee believed felons should lose voting rights for good. She said, “It was an effort to interact with members of the Committee.” Bryan stated, “Outrageous to Angela some people started voting no or stopped voting at all.” Bryan also noted that there was another Angela in this session – Rep. Angela Cockerham (I-Magnolia), who was appointed by Philip Gunn to replace Andy Gipson as Chair of the House Judiciary B Committee. Gipson quit the House after being appointed by Gov. as commissioner for agriculture. Phil Bryant. Cockerham made it a priority to get the bills through the process and wanted her members of the committee to support the effort. She said, referring to her committee members, “I have ideas I think are great, but I also wanted them to be used.” “I wanted feedback from their.” Cockerham stated that she began by gathering up-to-date information about the records of the person who requested the restoration of voting rights. “Has MDOC checked everyone to ensure that they are meeting the requirements?” Let’s bring it before the whole committee, and let them decide,” she stated. Many felony convictions are exempted from voting rights under the 1890s Mississippi Constitution. The Constitution states that the only way to restore your voting rights is by filing a bill for each person seeking suffrage restoration, or through the governor issuing pardons. Only 18 felons had had their voting rights restored in the past two years, and that was before the 2019 session. Since 2000, 147 people have had their voting rights restored by the Legislature. There were none in 2012 or 2016, and only one suffrage measure made it through the maze of the legislative process in 2013. Bryan stated that everyone believes going through each one individually is the best way to deal with this. Bryan stated that often it comes down to “people who are friends of somebody who is friends with somebody else” and the people who file legislation. This year, Patrick Joseph Fick from Harrison County wants to regain his voting rights. The Legislature passed Fick’s bill last year, but the governor vetoed it. Phil Bryant stated that Fick was in worse shape than he was when he was first convicted 27 years ago of receiving stolen property and a drug possession offense. Normaly, the governor authorizes the suffrage bills not to be signed by him. Bryant decided to veto the bill after Bryant received incorrect information about Fick. Fick hopes to regain his rights in this year’s election. Bryant is currently considering his bill. Fick stated that he wanted to regain his vote rights, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. A friend suggested that his brother-in law, Rep. Richard Bennett (R-Long Beach), might be able help. Bennett heard Fick’s story, and he agreed to file the bill. Fick stated that he didn’t know that there was a suffrage commission. Fick said that there are “a lot of hoops” to get voting rights through the Legislate. Fick stated that he had “absolutely” intended to vote in the state elections this year if he was successful. Turner-Ford said, “It is so arbitrary for members of a commission to judge someone based on what we see in writing.” A list of felonies that can result in a felon losing his voting rights is contained in the Mississippi Constitution. Other crimes, like those connected to the sale of drugs can cause felons to lose their right to vote. However, they are still eligible to vote while in prison. Official opinions of the Attorney General’s Office have updated the original list of disenfranchising crimes over the years to match modern criminal law. Arson, armed theft, bigamy and bribery are the crimes that the AG opinion lists. Most felons will automatically be restored to their voting rights after they have completed their sentences. Legislation is introduced every year in the Legislature. In the past, it has failed to pass one chamber. Bryan has held hearings about the matter in recent years. A federal lawsuit is also pending challenging the constitutionality permanently removing voting rights. Mississippi is one of a few states (less than 10) where voting rights for felons are not automatically restored after they have completed their sentence or after they have completed their parole or probation. Maine and Vermont are two states where felons do not lose their voting rights. Erica Hensley contributed reporting.