Senate approves felon voting rights bill

February 21, 2014

FRANKFORT — The Senate approved a measure Wednesday that would allow Kentuckians to vote on the next general election ballot on whether to restore voting rights of some convicted felons.

House Bill 70, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, and House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, proposes an amendment to the state Constitution that would restore voting rights to non-violent felons who have completed their sentence, probation or parole and paid any restitution required.

Currently, convicted felons in Kentucky can appeal to the Governor for an executive branch pardon that would restore their voting rights.

HB 70 would provide a “second path” for voting right restoration, Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said.

A committee substitute on the bill, approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee, would require felons to wait five years after completing all terms of their sentences before being allowed to vote. Anyone convicted of an additional crime during the waiting period would become ineligible for the restoration of voting rights without a pardon from the governor, as would those convicted of multiple felonies.

“(This) would give them a chance to re-immerse themselves in society, to prove that they (will) not commit another crime, at which time their voting rights will be automatically restored,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said.

Some lawmakers expressed concern regarding what they called limitations in the committee substitute. According to Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, the committee substitute would reduce the number of felons eligible for voting right restoration under HB 70 by nearly 100,000 people. “Those people paid their debt,” he said.

HB 70 cleared the Senate on a 34-4 vote and now goes back to the House of Representatives for consideration of the Senate’s changes to the bill.