RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Tuesday that he has appointed a seven-member advisory committee to determine whether the procedure for restoring felons' voting rights can be revised without amending the Virginia Constitution.
Legislative proposals to automatically restore nonviolent felons' rights - a duty now handled by the governor on a case-by-case basis - have failed repeatedly, most recently in the 2013 General Assembly. Those efforts have focused on amending the constitution, which says felons cannot vote unless their civil rights have been restored by the governor "or other appropriate authority."
The panel appointed by the Republican attorney general will examine whether the phrase "other appropriate authority" makes change possible within the existing constitutional framework.
"We must be tough on crime, but part of a successful criminal justice system includes redemption and re-entry into society," Cuccinelli said in a written statement. "In my view, that benefits society as a whole by potentially reducing recidivism."
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has streamlined the process and has restored more felons' rights than any previous administration. He surprised legislators from both parties when he championed the historically Democrat-backed automatic restoration of rights in his State of the Commonwealth speech. Cuccinelli also backed the initiative.
Cuccinelli's advisory committee includes two commonwealth's attorneys - Harvey L. Bryant of Virginia Beach and Lisa Caruso of Dinwiddie County.
Other members are K. Anne Gambrill Gentry, an assistant attorney general; Paul Goldman, former senior advisor to Gov. L. Douglas Wilder; Donald E. Santarelli, president of the Center for Community Corrections; Ashley L. Taylor Jr., former deputy attorney general; and attorney Henry E. Howell III.