Rep. Simmons’ voting-rights bill signed into law

“A giant step for civil rights”

OLYMPIA – In a remote ceremony required by COVID-19 safety measures, Gov. Jay Inslee today signed House Bill 1078, a measure sponsored by Rep. Tarra Simmons to automatically restore the voting rights of formerly incarcerated individuals. HB 1078 was the first bill introduced by Simmons (D-23, East Bremerton), and her first to be approved by both chambers of the Legislature and passed to the governor for his signature.

Simmons, an attorney and former registered nurse, was herself incarcerated at one time, and she positioned the bill to her fellow legislators as a proven tool for reducing recidivism.

“Regaining the right to vote, after having lost so many things, meant more to me than most people could imagine,” Simmons said. “This might seem a small thing to some people, but it’s a giant step for civil rights and it’s one that will give others what it gave me: a belief that I mattered, that I was once again a member of society, and that my freedom was worth preserving at all costs.”

The current process for having voting rights restored is complicated and it penalizes low-income citizens, because even if their voting rights are conditionally restored, they can be revoked for missing a payment on the expenses tied to their case, Simmons noted.

“This new law won’t affect community custody rules or relieve people of their responsibility to pay their legal financial obligations. It simply severs the tie between voting and those things that have nothing to do with voting. When you’re no longer in full custody of the Department of Corrections, you’ll be eligible to vote once more.”

Traditionally, bill-signings are public events held in the governor’s office, attended by bill sponsors, interested parties, and members of the public. Because of the pandemic, this year there will be one person present – Gov. Inslee – and others can view the official signings on TVW, the Washington state public affairs channel.

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