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Bill to grant ex-felons immediate voting rights introduced for second year

Bill to grant ex-felons immediate voting rights introduced for second year
Courtesy/ Legislature. George W. Norris Legislative Chamber (back view).

LINCOLN–A bill that would restore voting rights to felons upon completion of their sentences was heard by  the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee at the Nebraska State Capitol on Feb. 22.

Introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, Legislative Bill 1027 would eliminate the current two-year delay ex-felons must wait before their voting privileges are restored.

“It’s a simple matter,” Wayne said. “When you’ve done your time you should be able to participate.”

Wayne introduced a nearly identical bill last year, but it was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. However, Wayne said he will continue to introduce the bill until it is passed.

Wayne said that those who participate in the political process are 30 percent less likely to re-offend in the future, which ultimately benefits the entire community. Wayne also said that many other states including Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, allow felons to vote upon completion of their sentences.

In 2005, a bill allowing felons to vote after the two-year waiting period was passed by the Legislature.  Before that, there was a lifetime voting ban for all Nebraska ex-felons.

The ACLU of Nebraska compiled a report in 2016 titled “Voting Rights of Former Felons.” The ACLU called all 93 election commissioners in Nebraska and found that only half of the commissioners were able to provide correct information on whether ex-felons could vote.

Rose Godinez, legal and policy counsel for the ACLU of Nebraska, said that the ACLU strongly supports LB 1027 because voting is a fundamental right and because removing the two-year waiting period would be simpler to implement and for county officials to understand. Godinez also said the two-year waiting period  disenfranchises thousands of Nebraska voters.

Karen Bell-Dancy, executive director of the Lincoln YWCA, spoke in support of the bill at the hearing. She said that allowing former felons to participate in the democratic process only helps them reintegrate into the community.

“As each person deals with all the challenges that come with reentering society, some basic rights need to be restored immediately,” Bell-Dancy said. “Voting is one way to reconnect to society, to community, to family and to our democratic system.”

Also speaking in support of the bill was John Cartier, director of voting rights for Civic Nebraska.

“LB 1027 is simply adding a new tool to aid reintegration back into society: civic engagement,” Cartier said.”This comes at no cost to the taxpayer, with significant benefits to thousands of Nebraskans that just want a second chance to do what’s right.”

No one spoke against the bill. The committee took no immediate action on it.

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