Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2019

Currently: 58° — Complete forecast

Proposed legislation would end disenfranchisement of most felons in Nevada

CARSON CITY — Democrats are poised to tackle a large voting-rights issue — felon disenfranchisement. Bills redefining the state’s procedure for restoring voting rights to convicted felons have been filed in both the Assembly and the Senate. The Assembly’s bill — sponsored by Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas — would extend the right to vote to anyone who is not currently incarcerated. It was heard in committee Wednesday.

“It’s my position in presenting Assembly Bill 431 that if the system deems them to have completed their sentence, if the system deems that they are safe to be in this community, then the system believes that they should participate in the community and be a part of the community that we are asking them to reintegrate back into,” he said.

Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., currently allow felons to be eligible to vote immediately upon release from incarceration. Maine and Vermont have never taken away the right to vote from felons.

The issue is becoming more popular nationwide. Florida voters overwhelmingly passed a measure re-enfranchising felons when it was put to a referendum in 2018, but Republican lawmakers in the state have proposed a law that would require felons to pay court fees and fines before their rights are restored.

In Nevada, nonviolent felons regain their eligibility to vote immediately upon release or at the end of their probation or parole, but violent and second-time felons must have their ability to vote restored by the court in which they were convicted.

Almost 90,000 felons are estimated to have been disenfranchised in Nevada — a total of 4 percent of the population.

Assemblyman Skip Daley, D-Sparks, said the bill would make it easier for released felons to navigate the maze of re-enfranchisement.

“This should clear it up, make is easier for people who want to integrate, just like you said, to be able to follow through and participate,” he said.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has called Nevada’s disenfranchisement laws some of the most complex in the country due to the felonies that allow for immediate enfranchisement and the ones that act as disqualifications. Before 2003, all felons lost the right to vote permanently.

Sen. Pat Spearman, D-Las Vegas, has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. The bill is currently not on the schedule to be heard.

Spearman’s bill would immediately restore voting rights to released felons, except for those who have committed murder or certain felony categories of child abuse. These felons would be able to petition a court to have their voting rights restored after a two-year waiting period.