Georgia lawmakers considering allowing nonviolent felons to vote

Georgia lawmakers are looking into the possibility of allowing some non-violent felony offenders to vote.

The “Senate Study Committee on Revising Voting Rights for Nonviolent Felony Offenders” will review the current law and how it affects “reintegrating persons back into society,” according to a release from the state Senate.

The passage of Senate Resolution 153 during this year’s session created the study committee, which must report its findings by Dec. 1. The results could lead to legislative proposals for the 2020 session.

Georgia’s constitution bars anyone “convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude” from voting or registering to vote “except upon completion of the sentence.” That includes completing probation and paying any case-related fees, The Associated Press reported.

Georgia had 410,964 adults on probation as of Jan. 1, 2016, the most of any state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Critics argue the language, which dates to the Reconstruction-era, is vague, but in 1998, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled, “in Georgia, all felonies are crimes involving moral turpitude.”

The study committee comes amid a national discussion about restoring felons’ voting rights. In Georgia, lawmakers could weigh eliminating the “moral turpitude” requirement and defining which crimes should bar state residents from voting.

“I would think that crimes which involve life sentences would fit into that category,” The Augusta Chronicle quoted state Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, as saying. “Crimes which involve having to register on sex registry may also constitute such a crime that is so against the public good that such a person should not be able to vote while incarcerated, on probation or parole.”

Jones, a member of the study committee and sponsor of SR 153, proposed a bill during this year’s legislative session to allow Georgians serving a sentence for felony drug possession to keep their right to vote. Lawmakers did not pass Senate Bill 11.

The voting study committee is one of several in progress. Separately, state senators are looking at establishing the Georgia Agricultural Marketing Authority to provide consumers and producers an opportunity to buy and sell Georgia-grown products, while another group is evaluating e-scooters and “other innovative mobility options.”

“The study committee process allows our Senators to dedicate extensive focus to a single issue and generate in-depth proposals for our next legislative session,” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said in a news release.

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