‘Bill should be paid in full’ before offenders are restored to full citizenship
OLYMPIA – A bill giving convicted felons the right to vote before they have completed their sentences scorns crime victims and rejects the notion of justice, says Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview.
House Bill 1078, which passed the Senate Wednesday and now moves to the governor’s desk, automatically restores voting rights to convicted felons when they are released from prison. The measure lifts the requirement that offenders satisfy their legal financial obligations before full rights of citizenship are restored.
Majority Democrats favored the bill, which passed the Senate 27-22. All Republicans and two Democrats were opposed.
Wilson noted that the bill is part of a Democratic legislative agenda this year to weaken sentencing procedures and reduce criminal penalties. He said the majority party’s sympathy for criminal offenders should be balanced with respect for crime victims. “Where is the voice of the victims?” he asked.
Washington law allows courts to set financial obligations during sentencing, for restitution, crime victims compensation, prosecution costs and other assessments. In most cases, courts set a minimum monthly payment. Under current law, criminal offenders must satisfy these obligations before they are permitted to cast a ballot.
In remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Wilson said the restoration of voting rights ought to remain a final step as offenders reintegrate themselves with society. “I would liken this to moving the finish line,” he said.
Wilson reminded the Senate that criminals are sent to prison for a reason. Justice demands payback for the damage they caused. Offenders should be able to earn back the right to vote, “but only if, of course, the bill is paid in full.”