Letter in Support of Restore the Vote Bill

Written Testimony of Mr. Ryan Hamilton, Government Affairs Associate

H.F. 879 (Frazier) Restore the Vote

February 23, 2021

Chair Mariani and Members of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee:

The Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, is proud to be a part of the Restore the Vote Coalition and would like to express our support for Representative Frazier’s H.F. 879.

The Catholic Church has long been a vocal proponent of restorative justice and criminal rehabilitation. In 2000, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the pastoral statement “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.”

Catholic tradition supports the community’s right to establish and enforce laws that protect people and advance the common good, while also recognizing that both victims and offenders have a God-given dignity which calls for justice, not vengeance. In keeping with this tradition, MCC has continually supported voter restoration bills based on society’s need to balance these two goods.

Solidarity with crime victims requires us to insist that those who have committed crimes be held responsible and pay their debt to society. At the same time, ensuring the well-being of our communities also means working for the reintegration of offenders, who are often banished to the margins of society.

We should seek responses to crime that do not simply punish, but also rehabilitate, heal, and restore. We must ask whether disenfranchising felons – after the justice system has concluded that they should be working in the community and rebuilding their lives – serves any positive criminal justice purpose.

There is no doubt that those who return to our communities from incarceration face significant challenges. Among other things, these include finding housing and stable employment, physical and mental challenges, and social isolation. Without finding ways to give them the support they need and providing concrete opportunities for them to become reintegrated as active members of society, the likelihood that they will re-offend increases.

H.F 879 would create a bright line rule that an individual convicted of a felony has the right to vote restored when they are no longer incarcerated for the offense, or upon sentencing if no incarceration is imposed. The bill would provide clarity for citizens who may be confused as to when their voting rights are restored by requiring the state to develop and publish accurate information about the voting rights of people who have been charged with or convicted of a crime. We, along with our allies from the Restore the Vote Coalition, believe these measures would give Minnesotans who have served their prison time a renewed voice in the community and in the decisions that affect their lives.

Thank you for your consideration and please vote “Aye” on favorable passage of H.F. 879.

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