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A bill restoring civil rights of certain felons that have completed their sentences passes the legislature

George Hodan

Senate File 120 fully restores the rights of non-violent felons for those that were convicted or plead guilty to a non-violent felony. Those rights can only be restored five years after a person’s sentence and any probation or parole periods are completed. These include the right to sit on a jury, hold public office, and own and possess a firearm in Wyoming. A 2017 law restored voting rights for non-violent felons.

Those convicted of violent felonies such as murder, manslaughter, sexual assault, kidnapping, certain degrees of arson, or causing bodily injury to a peace officer, among others, would not be eligible for the restoration of any of their civil rights.

The bill also allows for the restoration of second amendment rights in Wyoming, though not on the federal level. It also doesn’t include language for those convicted on misdemeanor domestic violence counts. Federal law prohibits the ownership or possession of a firearm for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.

It passed the House on a 34-27-1 vote on Mar. 1 and the Senate on a 24-7 vote on Feb. 2. It was received for concurrence where it failed on a 5-25-1 vote in the Senate on Mar. 2. Concurrence is where the differences in the House and Senate versions of a bill are worked out before being submitted to the governor.

It failed in the Senate concurrence due primarily to concerns over the five year period for the full restoration of rights, an amendment that was added in the House.

A conference committee was convened on Mar. 2 to negotiate those differences. They ultimately ended up adopting House amendments that would implement the five-year period to obtain the full restoration of rights in addition to language that would add a misdemeanor charge to the books for a felon in possession of a firearm that hasn’t had their rights restored. This would be punishable by not more than six months in prison and a fine of not more than $750, or both. Additional language was added that states if a person is convicted or pleads guilty to a new felony after a certificate is issued by the governor they would lose their restored rights.

Supporters of the initial concurrence voiced their belief that it would be a positive step in becoming productive members of their communities and society at large.

“This would allow them to rejoin [society and] have voting rights,” said Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander). “That might actually be a better approach to these people than to make them beg for forgiveness for the rest of their lives.”

The bill has received support along its journey in the legislature, but criticisms have been levied at various points, including for the language that would require the multi-year waiting period.

“This is a serious bill, it's following along with the currents and saying, ‘Okay, we can go along with that,’” said Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper). “The five years was just too much.”

The bill has been signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate on Mar. 3 and will go to the governor for action there. If enacted, it would go into effect on July 1.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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