Governor Bob McDonnell gives 2013 State of the Commonwealth Address
While McDonnell's plan won praise from leaders of the Republican-ruled House, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist condemned the plan as a tax increase, an action that conservatives within the GOP caucus can't ignore with all 100 House seats up for election this fall.
Elaborating on his surprise measure for 2013, McDonnell urged lawmakers to support two GOP-sponsored bills to amend the Virginia Constitution to allow automatic restoration of nonviolent felons' voting rights.
"As a nation that believes in redemption and second chances, we must provide a clear path for willing individuals to be productive members of society once they've served their sentences and paid their fines and restitution," McDonnell said. "It's time for Virginia to join most of the other states and make the restoration of civil rights an automatic process for nonviolent offenders."
The governor alone has authority in Virginia now to restore the rights of the convicted - a time-consuming and cumbersome process. Since taking office in 2010, McDonnell charged his administration with accelerating the process by vetting applicants through the secretary of the commonwealth and his legal counsel, then providing applicants a response within 60 days.
McDonnell also proposed a measure in response to last month's school shooting in Connecticut: $6 million in new mental health funding for crisis services and children's treatment. The mass shooting was the nation's deadliest since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
McDonnell has indicated he might support letting teachers carry guns to deter armed interlopers, but he did not mention that in his speech. Instead, he said he has asked his new School and Campus Safety Task force to make recommendations by Jan. 31.
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