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State Advocacy Update: Unlocking the Vote with Grassroots Support

January 28, 2016
Advocacy campaigns are underway to expand voting rights in Maryland, challenge racial disparity in New Jersey, and a Missouri grassroots effort has emerged to scale back mandatory minimum laws.

State advocates are advancing policy goals to challenge mass incarceration. Advocacy campaigns are underway to expand voting rights in Maryland, challenge racial disparity in New Jersey, and a Missouri grassroots effort has emerged to scale back mandatory minimum laws.

Unlocking the Vote in Maryland

In Maryland, the Unlock the Vote Coalition is poised to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of last year’s House Bill 980. The legislation will expand voting rights to an estimated 40,000 individuals on felony probation and parole, with a veto override vote scheduled for February 5th.

Coalition members included Communities United, Common Cause Maryland and the Maryland League of Women Voters. Out for Justice, a formerly incarcerated led organization, helped to build public momentum. Advocacy support was amplified by groups with grassroots capacity like Maryland Working Families. Faith leaders expanded support by coordinating a faith sign-on letter, placing advocacy calls-to-action in church bulletins, and encouraging faith leaders to make mention of the pending override in Sunday sermons prior to the Martin Luther King Holiday. Social media platforms also aided efforts. Bill champion Del. Cory McCray, helps to manage the Facebook presence for Marylanders for Voting Rights where followers find bill updates and learn why individuals support the bill.

Expanding voting rights in Maryland has significant implications for disenfranchisement nationally; thirty-five states continue to impose voting bans on persons living in the community on supervision.

MD unlock the vote

Source: Communities United

Challenging Racial Disparities in the New Jersey Criminal Justice System

A state coalition has developed to promote policy solutions for the racial disparity that underlies the state’s juvenile and criminal justice systems. The initiative has coalesced around authorizing racial impact statements as a policy goal.  Racial impact statements are a tool for lawmakers to evaluate potential disparities of proposed legislation prior to adoption and implementation. Similar to fiscal impact statements, they assist legislators in detecting unforeseen policy ramifications.

Coalition partners include faith leaders with the AME Ministers Coalition and the New Jersey Parent Caucus. Members are working closely with bill champion, Sen. Ronald Rice, on strategies to build momentum and advance the measure through the legislative process.  Current tactics involve garnering additional support from state faith leaders and public education efforts with state advocates interested in criminal justice reform.

Scaling Back Truth in Sentencing in Missouri

Lawmakers have an opportunity to revisit certain mandatory minimum laws with the introduction of House Bill 2036. The measure would authorize parole review for persons with qualifying sentences after they serve a minimum sentence requirement of 40 percent. Missouri is among several states that require certain individuals to serve a mandatory 85 percent of their prison term.

The legislation is supported by an informal grassroots network – End 85% Law – comprised of family members of incarcerated people and other stakeholders.  Campaign supporters communicate via a Facebook page to share information, strategize on legislative tactics, and coordinate constituent outreach.

Other News

Connecticut – Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed an initiative to treat defendants as juveniles until age 21.

Delaware – Gov. Jack Markell and Attorney General Matt Denn support scaling back the state’s ‘three-strikes’ law.

Kansas – Policymakers are considering expanding the earned time release policy for qualifying prisoners from 90 days to 120 days to address problems with overcrowding.

Michigan – Lawmakers reviewing presumptive parole legislation for persons sentenced to lengthy prison terms, evaluated as a low-risk to public safety, with qualifying prison terms.

Minnesota — The state’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission voted to reduce prison sentences for persons with certain felony drug convictions. The policy will go into effect later this year unless the legislature votes to reject the change.

Nebraska – Legislation has been introduced to repeal the federal lifetime ban on welfare assistance for persons with felony drug convictions.


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