Friends–One important action request and a reminder about Faith Advocacy Day.
ACTION REQUEST: Please call Frank Chopp’s office and tell him that you are very disappointed that HB1517 was amended to call for a study instead of finally taking action to restore voting rights to released prisoners. Tell him you are particularly unhappy about this because your representatives in the faith community who met with him early in the session were told that this bill would be allowed to move ahead this year. We don’t need another study at taxpayers expense. And even worse, Speaker Chopp’s about-face is causing Senate leadership to think twice about their companion bill, SB 5534. Ask Speaker Chopp to keep his word and bring HB 1517 to a vote in its original form. His office number is (360) 786-7920, and his email is Chopp.Frank@leg.wa.gov
Background: Under current Washington law, prisoners lose their right to vote and cannot apply to get it back until they have completed their period of community supervision by the Department of Corrections and paid off all of their legal financial obligations (LFOs are fines, fees, court costs, victim compensation, etc.). Even then, the restoration process is time- consuming and complex, often requiring an attorney to sort it out. As a result, about 167,000 people are now disenfranchised in our state. HB 1517 and SB 5534, which FCWPP supports, would establish the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-prisoners once they complete active DOC supervision. At that point they may still owe LFOs and be making payments on them, but under HB1517 and SB5534, indebtedness alone would no longer prevent an ex- prisoner from voting.
The Senate bill, SB 5534, passed successfully through the committee process. However, Senate leadership is now hesitating to bring that bill to a vote because of the diminishing prospects that the House will pass a bill. In the House, the State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee added a “striker” amendment to HB1517. A striker essentially replaces the entire bill with a new bill, so what was HB 1517, a bill that we supported, is now SHB 1517, a bill that calls for nothing more than a study of the pertinent laws. This is simply a delay and diversion tactic for legislators who don’t want to deal with this issue. So both the House and Senate vehicles for voting rights restoration are in jeopardy because of Speaker Chopp’s flip-flopping.
REMINDER: Faith Advocacy Day is March 17! This is the big lobby day sponsored by our allies in faith groups across the state. Many of you have attended in the past, and we hope you’ll be able to come this year. It’s an excellent chance to further develop the relationships with legislators that many of you began to build on Quaker Lobby Day, and for those of you interested in issues such as homelessness, health care, and global climate change, this event is agood way to find out the latest political information and to work alongside other faith groups to bring about change in our state. After President Obama’s inspiring address last night, our legislators should be ready to make some changes–and we want to be there to make sure they do! Tom Ewell and I will be there to provide the briefing session on criminal justice issues.
Below is some basic information from the Faith Advocacy Day website. Registration information is available at http://faithadvocacyday.webs.com/index.htm .
Participants gather in the morning at The United Churches of Olympia, 110 11th Ave SE (Capitol Way and 11th Ave SE) for worship and briefings on critical social justice issues, and then walk to the Capitol to rally and to meet with legislators.
A $25 registration fee includes advocacy packet, transportation option, continental breakfast and lunch. Scholarships are available!