May 29, 2016 Newsletter

As far as the Virginia House of Delegates is concerned, Governor McAuliffe’s veto last week of budget language on Medicaid expansion never happened. Clerk of the House of Delegates, G. Paul Nardo, informed McAuliffe on Thursday he is “duty-bound not to publish” the governor’s veto of language in the budget that prevents him from accepting federal money under the Affordable Care Act to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program without General Assembly approval.

Mr. Nardo’s reasoning for not recognizing the veto, as keeper of the rolls of the commonwealth, is that Governor McAuliffe did not veto the appropriation attached to the language — in this case, the entirety of a $105 billion two-year budget that will take effect July 1.

Mr. Nardo cited a provision of the state constitution, as well as 40 years of case law and precedent in similar disputes between the legislative and executive branches, to conclude that the veto “does not constitute an item” in the budget bill. His reasoning is that the language represents a condition tied to the underlying budget appropriation.

The Supreme Court has been abundantly clear about the limits of the governor’s line-item veto authority and there is no doubt the governor has made an attempt to exceed it in this instance.

Recently, Gov. Terry McAuliffe took it upon himself to grant a blanket restoration of voting rights to more than 200,000 felons. His executive action violates the state constitution as well as the previous requirement of a waiting period and individualized review of petitioners.

To hear the governor tell it, returning voting rights will help these men and women with redemption and rehabilitation, allowing them to fully reintegrate into society. McAuliffe’s order also allows ex-felons to serve on juries, run for public office and apply for restoration of their gun rights. It applies to all ex-felons, including those guilty of violent offenses such as murder and rape.

In the past, those felons had to first petition the governor to get their constitutional rights restored, which could be a painstaking process. Then and only then would they be able to go the Circuit Court in their city or county and petition a judge to restore their gun rights. Under the law, the locality's prosecutor is told of each petition, and the judge can hold a hearing if need be. If they win back those rights, they can then apply for a concealed handgun permit, too.

But under Gov. McAuliffe's recent action, those 200,000 plus felons can essentially skip the first step and go straight to Circuit Court.

The McAuliffe administration notes that felons would still need a judge’s approval before winning back their gun rights and would still be vetted by the jury selection process before being added to such a panel. McAuliffe said that nearly 80 percent of those affected by his order were convicted of nonviolent offenses. Still, that means McAuliffe restored rights to 40,000 violent felons.

Felons should be allowed to vote — but not until they have completed their sentences (including any period of probation or supervised release), paid any court-ordered restitution to their victims and proven they are now willing to abide by the rules implemented by society.

To automatically restore voting rights the moment a felon walks out of prison is not in the best interests of the felon or the public as a whole. Instead, states should require a waiting period before felons can individually apply to a state review board or the governor’s office to have their rights fully restored.

The claim that felon disenfranchisement provisions are racist is incorrect, both factually and historically. The majority of states restricted felon voting before the Civil War when African Americans were unable to vote in most states; at the time they were enacted, such laws applied predominantly, if not exclusively, to white males.

In fact, the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the three reconstruction amendments, specifically gives states the authority to abridge the right to vote for “participation in rebellion, or other crime.” Your race doesn’t cause you to lose your right to vote — it is your decision to break the law.

Virginia is one of 11 states that bar ex-offenders from voting unless they receive individual exemptions. The commonwealth of Virginia has long had strong provisions barring convicted felons from ever possessing a gun again.  "It shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted of a felony … to knowingly and intentionally possess … any firearm," state law says.

If you have any concerns, questions, comments or issues that I or my Aide, Jenna, can help you with, please contact us at (434) 821-5929 or email at Delmfariss@house.virginia.gov. You can also keep up with me on my facebook page at www.facebook.com/DelegateMattFariss.

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