Habeeb proposes legislation to address felon rights restoration in Virginia

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Governor McAuliffe touched off a major controversy and court fight last year when he moved to restore the voting rights of 200,000 Virginia felons. And the debate isn't over.

Lawmakers will consider the issue during the General Assembly session that starts next week. And Salem Delegate Greg Habeeb is proposing legislation he hopes will win bipartisan support.

Alvin Crutchfield is more than 40 years removed from the drug offense that landed him in prison.

Last year was a roller coaster ride for Crutchfield and other ex-offenders whose voting rights were restored, revoked and then restored again.

"Family and everybody congratulated me, and then 30 days or so later, it was all gone," Crutchfield told WDBJ7. "It was like somebody put it in front of me and then snatched it back."

In the wake of Governor McAuliffe's controversial order last April and the court fight that followed, Salem Delegate Greg Habeeb says he believes many lawmakers now agree the current system is inadequate, and something needs to be done.

Habeeb is proposing automatic restoration of rights for non-violent offenders, and a path to restoration for those convicted of violent crimes that would require more time and scrutiny.

"It's streamlining the process for those people who deserve streamlining," Habeeb said in an interview. "It's putting some more rigor in place where we think that is important, more accountability and it's also addressing all rights, not just political rights, but constitutional rights specifically the second amendment rights."

Ann Fisher is the Executive Director of Virginia CARES, a statewide network of re-entry programs for ex-offenders. She reviewed Habeeb's proprosal and believes it could be a good compromise.

"Any step forward is a good step forward for our participants," Fisher said. "Anything that makes it easier especially in the case of the non-violent offenders to be able to get their voting rights back and their right to exercise some sort of voice in their community is a wonderful thing."

Fisher says one concern is a requirement that fines be paid in full.

She notes that fines and interest continue to grow while offenders are in prison, and they often have slim employment prospects when they get out. She suggests the law require a payment plan before rights could be restored.

Alvin Crutchfield says he also considers Habeeb's proposal a good start.

Despite having heart surgery in October, he was able to vote in the November election.