PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – For more than a decade, governors in Virginia – two Democrats and one Republican – have paved the way for thousands of convicted felons to have their rights restored.
Youngkin changed the policy early this year for a process that critics say has reduced restoration to a trickle.
“There was a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that said that every single felon who is now being released deserved, and should, have their case reviewed individually, so that’s what we do,” said Youngkin while in Norfolk April 5.
First, there was outrage across the state. The Virginia NAACP, in a news conference, called the new policy a step backward. Virginia and Kentucky are the only states that can permanently deny voting rights to convicted felons.
“Yes, he is trying to take us back to the Jim Crow era, and even farther back, if it can,” said Senate president pro tempore Louise Lucas of Portsmouth.
Days later two groups filed a lawsuit that called the new policy unconstitutional.
Friday, State Sen. Lionell Spruill, following his second meeting with the governor, told 10 On Your Side the governor has agreed to speed up the new application process.
“The governor made the commitment to expedite the process and make it more transparent,” said Spruill, who added the governor has promised to update the software system the state uses to process restoration applications.
While Spruill says he appreciates the governor’s new plan to expedite the process, especially for nonviolent felons, the Democrat said that plan is not enough.
“I want to offer a constitutional amendment to have the restoration of rights automatically restored for those who have paid their debt to society,” said Spruill, who plans to introduce the proposed amendment in January 2024.
Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said that “Governor Youngkin, Secretary (of the Commonwealth Kay Cole) James and Senator Spruill had another productive conversation on the restoration of rights.”