RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Republican leaders of the Virginia General Assembly called on Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe to convene a special legislative session to discuss the governor’s recent restoration of voting and other civil rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons.
House Speaker William J. Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. sent a letter to McAuliffe on Tuesday saying the governor’s actions last week was a “matter of great consequence” that deserves a thorough debate.
“The people, through their elected representatives, deserve the opportunity to have their voices heard on this matter,” the letter said.
McAuliffe rebuffed the request, saying a few hours after the letter was made public that there was no need for a special session. The governor has cast his move to restore voting rights as an overdue remedy to Virginia’s lengthy history of suppressing the black vote.
“After decades of troubling policies intentionally erected to limit Virginians’ voting rights, Gov. McAuliffe used his constitutional authority to break those barriers down,” McAuliffe’s spokesman, Brian Coy, said in a statement.
The governor’s order enables every Virginia felon to vote, run for public office, serve on a jury and become a notary public if they have completed their sentence and finished any supervised release, parole or probation requirements as of April 22. The administration estimates this population to include about 206,000 people.
Thereafter, the governor will act month by month to restore the rights of felons who complete all these requirements.
McAuliffe is limited to a single term and a Republican successor could stop granting rights restoration in the future. Three top potential contenders for the GOP 2017 gubernatorial nominee — former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman — have all criticized McAuliffe’s order.
Republicans have suggested McAuliffe’s move was political, and designed to help boost Democrats in coming elections. McAuliffe is close friends with Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, but he has denied that politics played a role in his decision.
State GOP leaders have a limited ability to call a special session. Under the Virginia Constitution, the governor has the ability to call a special session on his own. He must call one if two-thirds of the lawmakers in each chamber ask him to, but Republicans would need the sizeable support of Democrats in the Senate to reach a two-thirds majority there.
Republican leaders are also considering a potential legal challenge to McAuliffe’s order, according to Howell’s spokesman, Matthew Moran. The governor has said he feels confident that his actions were legal and would survive any attempt to undo them in court.
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