Nevada bill helps first-offense ex-felons get rights back

Senate and Assembly conferees have revived and endorsed a rejected plan to quickly and automatically give first-offense ex-felons back their right to vote.

But the changes to AB55, contained in a 103-page amendment, prevent ex-felons from seeking public office for four years. And while they could immediately serve as jurors in civil disputes, they couldn't be jurors in criminal cases for six years.

Repeat offenders and anyone convicted of sex offenses, murder or other violent crimes would have to go through the courts to have their rights restored. That's the process currently in place for all ex-felons in Nevada -- one of only three states with such requirements. Florida and Alabama have similar standards.

The eased requirements would apply to any first-offender who has completed a prison sentence, parole or probation. Ex-felons who are convicted in other states but then move to Nevada also are covered under the amendment.

"It's a fair thing," Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, said Saturday after the conferees signed off on the changes. The full Assembly approved the plan, and once the Senate does the same the bill will go to the governor.

The conferees inserted elements of now-dead AB337 into AB55, which started out as a proposal to collect DNA samples from certain felons who should have had the sampling in the first place, are paroled from prison and then violate a requirement to tell authorities where they're living.

The amendments were agreed upon by representatives of Nevada district attorneys, police and sheriffs and the state Division of Parole and Probation, among others.

The initial version of AB337 was sought by Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, who said the current court-petition process for ex-felons is burdensome and should be scrapped.

Several former prison inmates also testified in support of the law change, saying they had turned their lives around and deserved to vote or seek political office. Many noted the difficulty of finding work, saying jobs were closed off when employers asked whether they were ex-felons.

Representatives of two Nevada NAACP branches and the American Civil Liberties Union also voiced support for the legislation.


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