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Washington lawmaker with past conviction aims to restore voting rights for those with felonies

Rep. Tarra Simmons knows first hand how hard it can be to rebuild a life after serving a felony conviction.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Rep. Tarra Simmons has a personal connection to her bill to restore voting rights to those convicted of felonies.

"The punishment never seems to end. And I can tell you that first-hand,” Simmons, D-Bremerton, told fellow House members during a public hearing on House Bill 1078.

In 2011 Simmons was sentenced to 30 months in prison following a string of theft and drug charges.

In November she became what is believed to be the first Washington state lawmaker elected after being convicted for a felony.

After her release from prison, she attended law school and had to battle the state’s Supreme Court for the ability to get a degree and pass the bar exam.

Currently, someone who has lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction must apply to have it restored.

Simmons’ bill would automatically restore the right once someone is no longer in custody.

Simmons said losing the ability to vote adds another hurdle to someone looking to start their life over after serving a prison sentence.

"They're going to face discrimination in employment, a denial for most apartments because of their criminal history,” Simmons said.