Kentucky Senate appears poised to approve constitutional amendment on felon voting rights

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 18, 2014 

FRANKFORT — After years of languishing in the Republican-led Senate, a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights for most ex-felons appears poised to win legislative approval Wednesday at the behest of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

The full Senate is expected to sign off on the proposal Wednesday afternoon, following a scheduled appearance by Paul to push the bill through the Senate State and Local Government Committee at noon, said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.

"I think it has a good chance of passing," Stivers said Tuesday afternoon.

House Bill 70, sponsored by state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, already has cleared the state House. If the Senate approves the bill with no changes, voters would decide the amendment's fate at the ballot box in November. If changes are made, the House must approve the revised version of the bill or set up a committee to negotiate a compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, has said that he could not support HB 70 in its current form. Instead, Thayer said he might be able to vote for the proposal if it was changed to include a five-year waiting period for each qualified ex-felon, "to make sure they do nothing wrong during that time."

Stivers said he had decided how he would vote on the measure.

"There is support," he said. "I'm not a micro-manager of issues."

Stivers said Paul, a potential candidate for president in 2016, would not be addressing the full Senate. He said Paul must leave the Capitol before the Senate convenes at 2 p.m.

The bill would affect about 180,000 ex-felons who have completed their sentences, but it would not apply to those who have committed intentional murder, rape, sodomy or a sexual offense with a minor.

Under current law, ex-felons must petition the governor for a partial pardon to restore their voting rights.

Speaking to largely black audiences, Paul has criticized the War on Drugs for locking up a disproportionate number of black youths and taking away their constitutional rights.

"I think, particularly for nonviolent drug crimes where people made a youthful mistake, I think they ought to get their rights back," Paul said during a Louisville speech in September.

The state House gave Crenshaw, who is retiring this year, a standing ovation last month for his persistence over the years in pushing the constitutional amendment, then voted 82-12 to send his measure to the Senate.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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