By: Carleen Johnson | The Center Square
Convicted felons in Washington state, including murderers, may soon have more rights when it comes to seeking elected office, voting or sitting on a jury while still in prison.
House Bill 2030 is sponsored by Tara Simmons, D-Bremerton, an advocate for the restoration of rights for felons.
In 2020, Simmons was elected to the state House of Representatives, making her the first formerly incarcerated state legislator in Washington. In 2011 Simmons was sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft, drug and firearm crimes.
“This continues the work I’ve done since first being elected in 2020 when we got a bill passed that restores voting rights as soon as someone leaves prison, whether or not they had paid off their legal fees or were on electronic home-monitoring,” Simmons said.
She went on to say, “I know this is a partisan issue we are not all going to agree on, but I went to Norway with [Republican] Representative [Gina] Mosbrucker and others, and we toured their prisons, and what I learned is taking away the right to vote in America is very much rooted in racism, and other countries don’t take away your right to vote when you are convicted of a crime.”
Republicans say this is the latest in a long line of Democrat proposals that prioritize criminals over victims. Rep. Greg Cheney, R-Battle Ground, is the ranking minority member on the House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee, which considered the bill.
“Think about this from the perspective of the victim, knowing that someone on a jury panel [may] also be serving a current sentence for the very same crime that you were violated for,” Cheney said.
Rep. Leonard Christian, R-Spokane Valley, questioned Democrat priorities.
“This one bill is beyond my understanding; why they’re pushing so hard to restore voting rights for someone who is currently incarcerated,” he said.
He asked Simmons, “How much will it cost taxpayers to provide extra security for an inmate to perform jury duty at the taxpayer expense and then wouldn’t that expose a risk for that person to escape and is that an unacceptable risk?”
Simmons replied, “Jail inmates are typically summoned in these cases … I would need to ask staff about that and given this is my first year on this bill, I will make sure to be able to answer all your questions next time.”
Rep. Sam Low, R-Lake Stevens, added, “This bill is going the wrong way of where society wants us to go. They want to see people who rape and murder, put in prison and not given special privileges.”
Low asked sponsor Simmons, “Would this bill restore voting rights for Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer?”
“Yes, they would,” responded Simmons.
No further action was taken on the bill following this week’s hearing.