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Minnesota Senate passes felon voting rights and "driver's licenses for all"

Minnesota Legislature to adjourn until next week due to inclement weather
Minnesota Legislature to adjourn until next week due to inclement weather 01:40

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The DFL-led Minnesota Senate is sending legislation to the governor's desk for signature that would restore voting rights for people with felony convictions once they leave prison. Another bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license will soon follow. 

On Tuesday, the Senate approved the "Restore the Vote" measure on a 35-30 vote, a proposal that impacts more than 50,000 Minnesotans who are disenfranchised because of current state rules for people with felony records, according to the ACLU of Minnesota. 

The state law right now allows people to cast a ballot after they complete their sentence, including time for probation or parole. This bill would allow Minnesotans to vote when they leave prison. 

Twenty-one states have similar policies to what will soon be law in Minnesota. 

"Individuals living in our communities -- there's already been a decision made by the courts and others where they should be. They are safe. They are paying taxes. They are raising families. And they're doing everything they need to do to be in our communities," said Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis. "We all agree that voting is important. It is our voice, and we don't want to disenfranchise anyone from voting."

Republicans had introduced amendments to change the bill, including adding a carve out for people who committed certain violent offenses and requiring that they complete their full sentence.

They also sought to have people fully repay court fines, fees and restitution before they could vote again.   

"I don't believe any Minnesotan wants to have a person who's victimized one of our innocent citizens to have their civil rights restored, in this case the right to vote, when that sentence isn't fully finished," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

Then, early Wednesday, the Senate approved in a 34-31 vote a bill that will allow undocumented immigrants to get a state driver's license.

Supporters of the driver's licenses measure include law enforcement officials, clergy members, business groups and immigrant rights groups who say it will boost public safety by keeping roads safe and help the state's economy by ensuring people can get to work. 

Opponents have concerns about the action opening the lack of "safeguards" to protect people without legal status from voting and enrolling in state programs. They want the licenses for undocumented immigrants to be distinguishable from other driver's licenses.

The Minnesota House already passed both bills, but the Senate made technical changes to the driver's licenses bill, meaning the House chamber will need to give it the OK once more.

Gov. Tim Walz is expected to sign the felon voting rights bill soon. 

Democrats in charge of the Capitol have been passing legislation with much higher frequency at this point in session compared to recent years. This is only the second trifecta -- the DFL in control of the House, Senate and governor's office -- in more than 30 years. 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that the driver's licenses bill was headed to the governor and did not reflect the amendment passed that changed some its provisions, sending it back to the House. The story has been updated.

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