CARSON CITY — State Sen. Tick Segerblom said Tuesday he was confident that the Legislature next year will pass a bill to restore voting rights to prisoners convicted of violent felonies once they finish their sentences or are discharged from parole.
“It is very important in the rehabilitation process,” said the Las Vegas Democrat, who won approval of bill in 2011 to restore voting rights to felonies.
His bill, passed on a party-line vote, only to be vetoed by Gov. Brian Sandoval. The governor in his veto message said the right to vote “is a privilege that should not be lightly restored to the few individuals who commit the most egregious crimes in our society.”
Segerblom made his comments in response to an announcement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urging Nevada and 10 other states to repeal laws banning the restoration of voting rights in part because they disproportionately hurt minorities.
Holder also said these laws prevent the full reintegration of prisoners back into society. He cited a Florida study that released inmates whose voting rights are restored are less likely to commit new crimes.
“It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision,” Holder added.
Under a Nevada state law passed in 2003, voting rights are restored immediately to inmates when their sentences are discharged unless they were convicted of class A or class B felonies, any felony involving a crime of violence, a sex offense or two or more felonies.
Class A felonies are those involving murders, terrorism, kidnapping, creation of child pornography, sexual assault and child abuse. Class B felonies include possession of child pornography, battery and assault with a deadly weapon.
However, anyone can request that the state Pardons Board restore his or her civil rights, including the right to vote. The Pardons Board meets twice a year and generally considers about 20 civil rights cases per meeting. Often people convicted of drug crimes and relatively minor violent offenses have their civil rights restored.
In interviews with The Associated Press in Las Vegas, state Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City and Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, expressed support for restoring voting rights to felons.
“I don’t look at it as a race issue,” Hardy said. “If someone was honorably released after serving their time and punishment, they’re in a good place for what I’ll call ‘repented.’ At that point, we ought to be as forgiving as our maker is.”
“It is a dirty political game to keep felons from voting,” added Valencia Burch, a Las Vegas businesswoman who organizes Martin Luther King Day events and floated an online petition in 2010 calling for the restoration of voting rights for former state prisoners.
“Generally, people who are incarcerated are black and brown men,” Burch said. “As a result, that voice is being suppressed.”
Holder said in Washington, D.C., that 38 percent of the 5.8 million people who cannot vote because of felony convictions are black.
The Nevada Legislature does not meet until February 2015.
Hardy and retired Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, were the only Republican senators to vote for Segerblom’s bill in the 2011 Legislature. Former Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, also voted for the bill.
At present, Democrats are three Senate and one Assembly vote short of a two-thirds majority needed to override a governor’s veto.
Segerblom said times have changed since 2011 and he is confident that Sandoval can be persuaded to support a bill restoring voting rights to violent felons. He said people today are more concerned about rehabilitating prisoners than adding onto their punishments by denying them voting rights. By restoring voting rights, felons are more inclined to become beneficial members of society, he said.
Segerblom, in the middle of his Senate term, could be a candidate for governor this year, although Sandoval is popular and odds are he will win again.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-697-3901. Follow him on Twitter @edisonvogel.