HARTFORD, CT — The House spent about an hour Tuesday debating and then tabling a bill that would restore voting rights to parolees, who are still serving their sentences.
The bill, which didn’t receive much attention this year, was a priority for the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. A deal was brokered to let them debate the bill for a limit period of time, but it never got called for vote.
“There is no harm in broadening civic engagement,” Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, said.
He vowed to bring the bill back next year and win more support for the measure. He said they want to provide rights to individuals who are living and breathing in their communities.
“The bill was not as bad as some folks were making it out to be in the debate,” McGee said.
He said it’s important to help all citizens participate in the electoral process.
Currently, someone on probation can have their voting rights restored, but someone on parole cannot. The bill would have given the estimated 4,600 individuals on parole the right to vote.
Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck, said it’s bad public policy. ‘
“Unusually bad public policy idea,” Labriola, an attorney who practices in criminal court, said.
Labriola said voting is a privilege and so it’s not an “absolute right.”
“It’s hard to get to jail. You’ve really gotta do a lot of bad things to get to jail,” Labriola said. “Once you’ve gone to jail you’ve give up the biggest right, the most important right and that’s your freedom.”
He said actions have consequences and” part of the consequence is losing your freedom and losing your right to vote.”
He said it’s a huge leap from probation to parole. He said it goes against the fundamental rules of democracy.
“The pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction,” Labriola said.
However, proponents of the legislation were quick to point out that Connecticut is the last state on the east coast to pass legislation restoring voting rights for this population. Seventeen states have passed similar legislation to restore voting rights for parolees.
“This country has a notorious history which both denying and abridging this most sacred right,” Rep. Joshua Hall, D-Hartford, said while holding up a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
He said Connecticut has been a leader in criminal justice reform and the resources provided are critical to reducing recidivism.
“I thought it was called the bill of rights and not the bill of privileges,” Hall said. “Because it seems that according to some of my colleagues that anything you can regulate is not a right.”
“Therefore, the right to bear arms is apparently a privilege and not a right,” Hall said using the Republican logic. “So that’s very interesting.”
McGee said the debate was helpful in that it taught them what they need to do next year to get the bill over the finish line.
The bill comes a day after proponents held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said it’s disappointing that the bill failed.
“Restoring the right to vote to citizens who have served their terms of incarceration as they return to their communities is a long overdue reform, and simply the right thing to do,” Merrill said. “Seventeen states and the District of Columbia, including every other New England state, already return voting rights to people on parole.”