Wednesday, December 11, 2013
AUGUSTA – Rep. Gary Knight thinks convicted murderers should not be allowed to vote while they are in prison, so he's sponsoring a measure to change the Maine Constitution.
Voters cast their ballots at the Richard J. Martin Community Center in Biddeford on Nov. 8, 2011. State Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, has introduced a bill to restrict felons' voting rights.
2011 File Photo/Gregory Rec
Knight, a Republican from Livermore Falls, knows other attempts to restrict felons' voting rights have failed in Maine in recent years. But he said conversations with family members of murder victims convinced him it's time to try again.
This will be the sixth time since 1999 that the Legislature has considered a bill to restrict felons' voting rights, according to the Law and Legislative Reference Library. All those attempts have failed.
Maine is one of only two states that allow felons to vote while incarcerated, along with Vermont.
Knight said his bill is different from those that were rejected because it specifies that only those convicted of Class A crimes, which include murder, manslaughter and gross sexual assault, would be prevented from voting. Also, when they get out of prison, their voting rights would be restored.
"They give up their rights of citizenship when they commit this type of crime," he said. "This is to address the most heinous of crimes."
The bill will be opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which has led the opposition in the past.
"Stripping people of constitutional rights is no appropriate punishment," said executive director Shenna Bellows. "Voting is also an important tool in rehabilitation and reintegration into the community."
As a proposed constitutional amendment, the bill would require two-thirds support for passage. It is headed to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee for consideration.
Knight's bill, L.D. 573, is one of many released in recent weeks sponsored by central Maine lawmakers or that would affect central Maine constitutents.
• L.D. 613 calls for the state to pay $50,000 toward erecting a memorial in memory of those who died at the former Augusta Mental Health Institute.
Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, said members of the Cemetery Project in Maine asked her to sponsor the measure to honor the estimated 11,000 people who died at the state psychiatric hospital or while on leave from AMHI between 1840 and 2005.
The bill will be considered by the State and Local Government Committee.
• Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, is sponsoring L.D. 626, which would remove the mandatory minimum sentence of one year for those convicted of reckless conduct with a firearm.
Katz said he wants to give judges more discretion to hand out appropriate sentences.
The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.
• Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, is sponsoring L.D. 558, a proposal to erect a monument to Franco-Americans somewhere on or near the State House campus.
Fredette said the idea came out of a task force that met last year to study the contributions of Franco-Americans to Maine. His bill does not seek any state funds but would call for private fundraising over a three-to-five-year period. The bill will be considered by the State and Local Government Committee.
• Rep. Larry Gilbert, D-Jay, is sponsoring L.D. 609, which requires the Department of Education to adopt rules to require suicide prevention training for all school personnel. The bill is headed to the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at: