- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Proposals to restore the voting rights of more than 70,000 Louisiana ex-felons on probation or parole got a chilly reaction from some state lawmakers Wednesday.

A House committee rejected one such proposal and convinced a lawmaker to delay action on a similar bill until next week.

Rep. Patricia Smith, a Baton Rouge Democrat, pulled her proposal from a vote after her colleagues expressed concern about giving the vote back to people who have been on parole or probation for five years.

Similar proposals have died before in the conservative Louisiana Legislature. Smith introduced the bill after supporters of restoring voting rights struck out in court last month, when a judge told them they would have to get the law changed if they want the prohibition lifted. The law affects about 71,000 citizens - roughly 1.5 percent of the state’s population.

Multiple ex-offenders told the committee they are law-abiding citizens who pay their taxes but cannot truly participate in their communities if they cannot vote.

“People who are engaged in their community don’t commit crimes,” said Bruce Reilly, the deputy director of the New Orleans group Voice of the Ex-Offender. Reilly, who is in his 40s, said he cannot vote until he is 65 because of a murder he committed as a teenager.

Republican Rep. John Schroder said he can’t support a bill that applies to all ex-felons without taking into account their crimes. He told Smith he’d work with her to tweak the proposal so that it might reach the House floor.

“In some situations I can live with this, but there are some that I simply cannot, and I think my colleagues feel the same way,” said the Covington representative, who engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth debate with Smith and the bill’s supporters. “I think (parole) is the reward in itself: We’ve let you out on parole when we could keep you in jail.”

Minutes later, the committee voted 5-2 against another bill that would have taken the issue out of lawmakers’ hands and asked the public to decide.

Democratic Rep. Denise Marcelle’s bill called for a referendum on amending the state constitution to allow ex-felons on parole or probation to vote upon their release. Unlike in Smith’s bill, Marcelle’s bill called for the restoration of voting rights immediately after an inmate’s release.

Rep. Barry Ivey, a Baton Rouge Republican, had said earlier that he would be more supportive of Smith’s bill if a 40-hour community service requirement were added. He came down much harder on Marcelle’s bill, calling it “unpalatable” and saying it did not “take anything into consideration.”

“I believe there is more opportunity with Rep. Smith’s bill in trying to come to some balance,” Ivey said. “There is a pathway to a solution.”

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House Bills 229 and 235: www.legis.la.gov

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