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Convictions block too many from voting and jobs, Civil Rights Commission says

Felony convictions can haunt people long after they've served their time, limiting access to everything from voting rights to housing. A report out Wednesday from the U.S. Civil Rights Commission says these "collateral consequences" have too much impact on convicts after they have reentered society.

More than 620,000 are released from prisons each year and are then subject to a variety of "invisible punishments" limiting their opportunities and rights. Many of those, the commission concluded, have nothing to do with the crimes committed.

"When the collateral consequences are unrelated in this way, their imposition generally negatively affects public safety and the public good," Commission Chair Catherine Lhamon wrote in a letter to President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The commission's majority offered eight recommendations, including:

  • Public safety should be the focus of any collateral consequences.
  • Laws should be reviewed to ensure they effectively reduce recidivism and protect the community.
  • Restrictions on food stamps should be eliminated and restrictions on public housing limited.
  • Nonviolent criminal records should eventually be sealed from public view.

The report cited the decision by Florida voters last year to restore voting rights to felons as a prime example of countermanding such collateral consequences. But the report was finalized before the Republican-run state Legislature passed a measure creating hurdles for felons registering including paying all restitution, court costs and fines. GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to soon sign the bill.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a trio of democracy reform bills this week.

California governor signs three political reform bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.

The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.

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Gov. Ralph Northam used his executive authority to restore voting rights for felons, noting that Virginia is among the states that permanently strips such rights after a felony conviction.

Virginia governor restores voting rights to over 22,000 felons

More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.

In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.

Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.

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