Ex-felon rights bill heard

A Nevada Assembly panel was asked today to back a bill that would streamline the process for restoring civil rights of criminal offenders after they have paid their debts to society.

Currently, certain ex-offenders can have their civil rights restored after they apply to the state Pardons Board. But the board only meets twice every year and receives up to 100 applications that are reviewed in a short period of time.

SB238, authored by Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, would allow civil rights to be restored to ex-felons more quickly provided there are no objections from a sentencing judge or from the prosecutor in the case.

The bill, reviewed by the Assembly Corrections, Parole and Probation Committee, also would allow the board to review applications throughout the year and make decisions without meeting. Parks said he has been working to streamline the process for at least a decade.

"I think that it's a very confusing process, and it's a rather lengthy process," Parks said. "And if everyone has to go through that same lengthy process, then it takes a long time ... to do the updates and go through the reports."

Parks said the completed application to restore civil rights can be as much as four inches thick for one person. One goal of the bill is to change the application so that the resulting documents will be less than an inch thick.

"I think there are individuals whom, possibly out of frustration, just go, 'Oh I can't deal with that,"' Parks said.

Lawmakers were told that most civil rights, such as voting and serving on a jury, are automatically restored. But ex-offenders have to apply for the right to have guns.

"The only thing that there would be a need for an expedited process would be those who were seeking to have their Second Amendment rights restored," said the committee chairman, Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas. "That gives me concern, because I think it should be a rare occasion that a convicted felon, particularly one who has violence in their history, has the opportunity to bear a firearm."

Mark Woods, deputy chief of the state Division of Parole and Probation which handles investigations, said that when reviewing applications he considers the behavior of ex-offenders since their release.

"This bill would help us because instead of getting all the cases in one shot, we would get them throughout the year," Woods said. "What we find most often is not criminal activity, but failure to pay fines. A lot of people forgot they owe $300 in

attorney fees."

Woods also said civil rights would not be restored if restitution hadn't been made to the victim of a crime.

"Many states, and we are in the bottom third, restore voting rights for all ex-felons," said Jan Gilbert of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, supporting the bill. "We feel that ex-offenders, once they are released from prison, parole and probation, should be getting their voting rights back."

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