The Ottumwa Courier

AP Iowa

February 12, 2014

AG urges restoring voting rights to ex-inmates

(Continued)

The first results became public last August, when Holder instructed federal prosecutors to stop charging many nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences. He said long mandatory terms have flooded the nation's prisons with low-level drug offenders and diverted money away from crime fighting.

A month ago, Holder joined Education Secretary Arne Duncan in pressing the nation's schools to abandon disciplinary policies that send students to court instead of the principal's office. The two Cabinet officials said "we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students."

Then over the weekend, Holder applied a landmark Supreme Court opinion to the Justice Department, declaring same-sex spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other, should be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly and are entitled to the same rights and privileges as federal prison inmates in opposite-sex marriages.

His call for restoring voting rights for ex-prisoners are part of what the attorney general calls his "Smart On Crime" program.

On Tuesday, Holder said that because of state laws that restrict former inmates' right to vote, about 10 percent of Floridians and 8 percent of people in Mississippi are disenfranchised.

On the positive side, Holder said 23 states, including Nebraska, Nevada, Texas and Washington state, have enacted recent improvements and Virginia has adopted a policy that automatically restores the voting rights of former prisoners with nonviolent convictions. The Virginia policy was carried out by order of the governor, but Holder said legislation is needed to make permanent change.

Kentucky is studying a proposed constitutional amendment that would put on the state ballot the question of whether to automatically restore voting rights for certain felons who've completed their sentences and probation. Championed by a Democratic lawmaker, the proposal also has drawn support from Republicans, including Paul.

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