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Group pushes to restore parolees' voting rights in Minn.

ST. PAUL—Minnesotans who made serious mistakes in their lives believe they still should get another opportunity at having a say in their communities.

"Everybody deserves a second chance," said Shane Black, a North Minneapolis resident who is with A Better Road Foundation; he came to the Capitol on Wednesday, March 7, to rally in support of legislation that would restore voting rights to felons on parole.

Black stood in the rotunda holding a handwritten sign encapsulating his message: "Hope is in our past to become our future," it read on one side; on the other it read, "Give me a second chance, I won't need a third."

What do they want changed?

The Minnesota Second Chance Coalition is pushing for legislation that would allow about 57,000 Minnesota felons released from incarceration but still on parole to vote.

Currently, supervised release must be completed before voting rights are restored.

The group is also pushing for the length of probation to be shortened in many cases. Current law allows courts to set probation terms as high as 40 years for some crimes.

Instead, the coalition would like five-year probation cap for non-criminal-sexual conduct offenses and an eight-year cap in cases were prison time is recommended, but probation is imposed instead.

The coalition also backs legislation that would limit the financial hardships low-income residents experience from the fines and fees related to traffic tickets and misdemeanor offenses. The proposed legislation would allow judges to modify or waive some fines and fees for defendants who have financial hardships.

Who supports this?

Coalition members touted bipartisan support of their legislation Wednesday, but the majority of the lawmakers who attended the Capitol rally were from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

Past Legislatures have considered the proposals but haven't given final approval.

Legislation restoring voting rights was reintroduced in February. It has a coalition of nearly three dozen sponsors.

Three bills sponsored by Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, to modify rules about fines and fees have Democratic co-sponsors and were recently referred to the House transportation committee.

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