- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

RICHMOND Members of the legislative Black Caucus said yesterday that Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner should shorten the length of time convicted felons have to wait before asking to have their voting rights restored.
Currently, Virginia's Constitution only allows the governor to restore civil rights, which include the right to vote and own a gun.
Governors traditionally make felons wait at least five years before reviewing petitions to restore voting rights, seven if the charge was drug-related. But the governor is not required to follow that timeline.
A bill sponsored by Delegate Jerrauld C. Jones, to be voted on Monday in the House of Delegates Courts of Justice Committee, would eliminate the time requirement.
"A lot of this can be eliminated through gubernatorial policy, so they can review these … petitions without waiting five years, so I'm calling on the governor [to change the policy]," Mr. Jones said at a news conference.
The Secretary of the Commonwealth's Office, which handles requests for restoration of civil rights, recorded 1,344 petition from 1998 to 2002 during former Gov. James S. Gilmore III's tenure. Mr. Gilmore granted some type of relief in 210 cases of pardons or restoration of rights.
Mr. Jones and other members of the General Assembly say the waiting period is too long because it includes any probation and/or parole, rather than starting from the time the felon is released.
"The right to vote … is one people ought to be allowed to regain after they have paid their debt," Mr. Jones said. "So the waiting-period part of it is an impediment. It ought to go."
Nonviolent felons can petition a circuit court judge to certify their good behavior after the waiting period so that the governor will have to make a decision on their case within 90 days.
The State Crime Commission is expected to recommend a referendum be held in 2004 that would change the constitution to make restoration of civil rights automatic after a felon has served his time.
Ellen Qualls, spokesman for Mr. Warner, said the governor has spoken with members of the Black Caucus about the issue and promised to examine it.
"We are studying the five-year waiting period [policy] and other administrative ways to speed up the process," Miss Qualls said. "The governor wants to give a full and thorough review to each case."
Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican and chairman of the crime commission, said it could be politically "problematic" for Mr. Warner to change the current policy.
"There is very little incentive for the governor to do that," Mr. Stolle said.
He said the assembly is trying to work on the issue, but nothing should be expected anytime soon. "Until we change the constitution, it's simply going to be up to the governor whether to restore voting rights," Mr. Stolle said.
House Majority Whip Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites, Fairfax Republican, said Mr. Warner's choices on restoring voting rights could show his real political colors.
"This is one of those issues that is going to portray him as the conservative that he campaigned as" or a fiscally conservative Democrat who is liberal on social issues, Mrs. Devolites said.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall's bill that would require public schools to post "In God We Trust" sailed through the House yesterday on a 83-16 vote, with many Democrats approving the measure.
Mr. Marshall, Prince William Republican, also proposed a bill that would post the national motto in courthouses. The bill passed and will have a final reading today.
Opponents said there may not be enough controls on the appearance of the display, since it is left to the discretion of the court's chief judge.
"Let's not make a mockery of the motto," said Delegate Clifton A. "Chip" Woodrum, Roanoke Democrat.

The Black Caucus introduced legislation that would amend the House's rules, which now include a salute to the state flag that some members find offensive.
"A Salute to the Flag of Virginia" is now a part of the opening procedure for the House. Members of the caucus say they take issue with the origin of the salute, which was written by a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and has been a part of the Virginia chapter's meetings since 1946.
Republican leaders rejected a rewritten version of the pledge since the words themselves were not an issue for the black delegates. The Senate does not have a state pledge.

Young men will have to register with Selective Service in order to get a driver's license if a bill passed by the House 64-35 becomes law.
The legislation, sponsored by Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, is meant to increase the percentage of young men who register. That number is now about 76 percent, Mr. Cox said.
"Let me remind you the young man who doesn't do this is going to lose a lot of benefits," Mr. Cox said of the school loans, grants and jobs tied to registering.
Delegate R. Lee Ware Jr., Powhatan Republican, said the state would be helping the federal government in ensuring compliance with the federal Selective Service law.

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