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State senator working to restore voting rights for some felons in Tennessee

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — New efforts are in the works to restore voting rights to low-level felons in Tennessee.

Tennessee state Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) is behind the bill currently being drafted.

"We are just trying to make the process easier, streamline it and remove that barrier for folks who might have made a mistake and help them move past that," Akbari said.

She's hopeful after seeing Florida voters just passed similar legislation.

"Coming from Florida being a red state, I am hoping that will galvanize our citizens and members of our general assembly to say if they can do it, we can do something like that in the state of Tennessee."

Currently, Tennessee allows felons to regain their voting rights if their conviction is expunged and they complete a voting rights form, which can be a complicated process.

Deandre Brown is an ex-felon and runs Life Line 2 Success, a program helping ex-convicts ease back into society.

"While we may have made bad decisions, we are still humans and still American citizens," Brown said. "We are doing things the right way. Working for our city and county government, but don't have our ability to put our input in when it comes time for elections."

WREG reached out to several Mid-South lawmakers who told us they're waiting to see the bill's language, including House Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gant (R-Rossville).

In a statement, he wrote in part, "the idea of having voting rights automatically restored before full restitution and payment of fines or fees are made is concerning. Perhaps, there is a solution to make this process easier, but we must ensure it does not come at the expense of jeopardizing the integrity of the ballot box."

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich also responded to the proposed legislation.

“Without seeing the proposed language it is hard to give an opinion. Currently under the law, low-level felons can petition a judge for restoration of their rights upon completion of their sentence, including probation. It is one of the many things this office handles. We reply to about 6-12 petitions from citizens yearly.”

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