Baton Rouge, LA – The fight to restore voting rights to those who have served their time has reached a milestone in Louisiana after the State House and a Senate Committee approved a bill to do just that. The move mirrors recent initiatives in New York and Virginia.
The House-backed bill sponsored by Sen. Patricia Smith (D-BR) would allow someone who was imprisoned for a felony to register to vote after being out of prison for at least 5 years.
The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee chaired by New Orleans Democrat Karen Carter Peterson opted not to kill SB 265 by a partisan vote of 4-2. Republican Senators Jim Fannin and Mike Walsworth were the dissenting votes. “I just think five years is too soon. I think 10 would be more appropriate,” said Fannin.
Since it has already passed the House, passage in the Senate would lead to the change taking affect in 2019. The bill could impact tens of thousands of Louisiana residents.
Just last February, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals based out of Baton Rouge heard legal challenges to current law with the debate focusing on the words “under an order of imprisonment”. The 1974 state law was amended by the legislature two years later to include those who are on felony probation or parole.
Bill Quigley represented a group of felons in the case and addressed the 3-judge panel:
“Imprisonment means you are in prison. You are not under an order of imprisonment (if on probation or parole) because you are not in prison.”
Then the state had an opportunity for rebuttal:
“You can define imprisonment all you want. Under an order of imprisonment means more than imprisoned. `Under an order of imprisonment’ does not mean actual imprisonment.”
The court ultimately upheld a lower courts ruling, finding that felons on probation or parole are still under “custodial” supervision as part of their sentence and can be denied the right to vote.