Bill that puts WA felons before crime victims is a threat to justice and common sense

In a recent Washington State House committee hearing, an unusual scene unfolded: prisoners, clad in tan uniforms, testifying, some calling themselves victims rather than perpetrators of crimes. The convicted felons were testifying on House Bill 2030, a proposal aiming to reinstate felons’ rights, including the right to vote, serve on juries, and run for office ― all while incarcerated.

The bill allows anyone incarcerated in a state prison to vote and sit on a jury. Worse yet, if passed, prisoners currently serving felony sentences could sit on a juror panel for charges similar to those for which they are serving a prison sentence.

Proponents of HB 2030 tout it as a means of rehabilitation. Wrong: It’s a misguided idea that disregards the continuing suffering of victims and their families while challenging the very foundation of justice. Would you trust Gary Ridgway, the infamous Green River Killer, to serve on the jury of the abuser that victimized you or your family?

Under this bill, felons like Ridgway, responsible for killing at least 49 teenage girls and women in Washington (denying them their lives and voting rights), could serve on a jury, vote in an election, or run for office — a notion that defies common sense and trivializes the severity of his actions.

Ignoring the profound effect of the bill on victims and their families, backers also argue that HB 2030 is a prisoners’ rights issue, emphasizing fairness to those incarcerated. Wrong again: The argument fails to acknowledge the gravity of the crimes committed by felons like Ridgway, whose actions have left irreversible, painful scars on countless victims and their families. Allowing felons to participate in civic duties dismisses the suffering of victims and their loved ones.

Likewise, calling HB 2030 a partisan issue revictimizes victims and is also a gross disservice to the debate: This is about justice and accountability, not politics. Granting felons currently serving prison time the right to vote, serve as jurors, and run for office dilutes the significance of their crimes and dismisses their victims’ anguish.

Additionally, the bill’s financial burden on taxpayers is staggering. Taxpayers would be forced to pay to transport prisoners across the state and secure prisoners for jury duty. Consider the logistical nightmare: Taxpayers paying to transfer an inmate from Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell for a jury summons in Pierce County. With over 13,000 prisoners in Washington state, the bill’s cumulative cost to taxpayers would be exorbitant.

Fundamentally, prison should serve as a mechanism for accountability and deterrence, not solely rehabilitation. When felons are convicted of violent crimes, they should forfeit certain rights as a consequence of their actions. Allowing violent felons to engage in civic duties before fully atoning for their crimes disregards the profound impact on victims. Restitution extends beyond mere incarceration; it entails accepting responsibility and acknowledging that certain rights — such as voting, jury duty, and running for office — can and should only be restored once an individual has fully repaid their debt to society.

HB 2030 is a terrible idea. It’s a deeply flawed proposal that undermines the fundamental principles of justice and disregards victims and their families. Rejecting this bill isn’t merely a principled stance or partisan politics; it’s a matter of common sense. Instead of allowing felons to vote, serve on juries, or run for office, let’s prioritize supporting victims and their families while fostering justice and accountability within our communities and state.

State Representative Greg Cheney, 18th Legislative District
406 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7812 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000