Tennessee lawmaker wants voting rights restored to convicted felons

Cropped Photo: Rainerzufall1234 / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) - A Tennessee lawmaker is pushing for restored voting rights for convicted felons.

Sen. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) is sponsoring SB36, which would give felons a second chance and restore their voting rights.

Convicted felons would have to apply for restoration of voting rights as well as make any outstanding payments incurred over court costs, restitution, or overdue child support.

"As introduced, enables a person who has been disqualified from exercising the right to vote due to a felony conviction to apply for restoration of voting rights if making payments in accordance with a payment plan for court costs, restitution, or overdue child support."

Robert Sherrill started life with the odds stacked against him.

“I was as street guy up until I got busted and went to the feds,” said Sherrill.

His mother addicted to crack. His father died in prison when Sherril turned 16. He's not afraid to tell you the streets raised him.

He slept in cars and hopped from friends house to friends house to have a place to sleep. If he wasn’t at someone’s home, he says he was in and out of jail.

“I used to pray and ask, 'God, why me?' And now I know why, and that's because he knew I would be a beacon of light, a beacon of hope to the community,” said Sherrill.

Sherrill served five years in prison but turned his life around owning four businesses and running a youth mentorship program, but still something's missing.

“It feels weird to have people talking and saying they voted and for their people and you're sitting there and can't chime in on the conversation and exercise your right,” said Sherrill.

Sherrill, a convicted felon who spent years having to pay off mounds of debt before he could be eligible to have his voter rights restored. It's a hurdle senator Brenda Gilmore is trying to eliminate.

In a bill she recently filed, felons don't have to clear debt to be eligible for voter rights. They must at least be on a payment plan. Also, all felons would be eligible to vote except those convicted of sex crimes and crimes using a gun.

“Even though you may have committed some type of crime, it doesn't take away your citizenship and you still have to pay taxes once you are released from incarceration, “ said Blondell Strong Kimbrough.

Strong Kimbrough has been a voting rights advocate for decades and works with the NAACP to get felon records expunged.

“It was a hard process. It was a tedious process that I think the system hides from felons. They make it so hard that after a couple times, you just quit,” said Sherrill.

If passed, this bill could impact hundreds of thousands of felons in Tennessee.

It would be similar to a bill Florida passed last year. In Florida, the move pushed to enable more than 1 million ex-felons to regain their voting rights. Felons exempt from voting included murderers or felony sex offenders. Under that amendment, felons' right to vote would be be restored after they finished their sentences, any probation and repaid any restitution.

Click here for current voting laws for convicted felons in Tennessee.

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