Larry Dale Keeling: Will karma smile on Thayer or Crenshaw?

Contributing ColumnistFebruary 23, 2014 

FRANKFORT — This and that a few days after the 2014 General Assembly's Hump Day (it's all downhill from here, probably in more ways than one):

Karma has a sense of humor. It/she/he must. How else did it come to pass that one of the more interesting House-Senate squabbles to watch during our downhill slide came out in the open on Hump Day (Wednesday)?

House Bill 70 proposes to amend the state constitution to allow most felons who have done their time, paid their restitution and completed their parole or probation to have their voting rights restored automatically. Kentucky is one of a handful of states where this doesn't happen. Felons here must petition the governor for a pardon to get their voting rights back. Since different governors have set different standards for felons to meet, this system produces uneven results.

Democratic Rep. Jesse Crenshaw of Lexington has made automatic restoration of voting rights a personal crusade, seemingly forever. Although some Republicans oppose automatic restoration because they think the large numbers of minorities among the felons would vote Democratic, year after year, Crenshaw's proposed amendment passed the House with strong bipartisan support. But it never got even a committee hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate until Wednesday.

This year, House Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover signed on as a co-sponsor of HB 70. When the bill passed the House by an 82-12 vote, 33 of the chamber's 46 Republicans voted for it. When the Senate State and Local Government Committee finally took up the bill Wednesday, Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul, who also supports restoration of these rights, sat at the table with Crenshaw, as did Hoover and Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

But Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer adamantly opposes automatic restoration of voting rights. "House Bill 70 unamended is not going to be called for a vote in the Kentucky state Senate," he declared after Crenshaw and the others completed their testimony.

So, the committee approved Thayer's substitute language that, if anything, would make getting their voting rights back more difficult than it is now for many felons and impossible for others. Crenshaw said the substitute language would disqualify about 100,000 of the more than 180,000 Kentuckians who currently are denied the right to vote because of past felonies.

Later Wednesday, the full Senate approved the substitute unanimously, with Democrats and even some Republicans voting for it just to get the bill to a conference committee they hope will come up with language closer to Crenshaw's than Thayer's.

Crenshaw chose not to seek re-election this year. Since the General Assembly can only approve constitutional amendments in regular sessions, this is his last chance to bring his crusade to a successful conclusion. No doubt, many of his House colleagues on both sides of the aisle want one of his retirement gifts to be going out a winner on this issue.

So, yes, this will be an interesting squabble to watch.

Even though it will be appealed, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II's ruling that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages from other states puts the despicable marriage amendment Kentucky voters approved in 2004 on a death watch.

Heyburn's ruling was based on the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law from state to state. An equally valid case could be made under Article 4 of the same document, which requires all states to give "full faith and credit" to the "public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state."

So, even if Kentucky is a long way from legalizing same-sex marriages, Kentuckians who enter into such unions in other states eventually, probably sooner rather than later, will be able to enjoy all the benefits of marriage here. And that's a good thing for many of our fellow workers, friends and family members.

After seeing the Bluegrass Poll results on raising the minimum wage (61 percent approval rating), I figure the best way for Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and for Democrats to retain control of the House is to climb up on this pony and keep applying spurs and whip constantly until Election Day.

If they stick to the minimum-wage message like the campaign of former President Bill Clinton stuck to its "the economy, stupid" message in 1992, they have a chance. Maybe an outside chance, but still a chance.

Speaking of Bubba, Rand Paul recently has been using his affair with Monica Lewinsky to pooh-pooh Hillary Clinton's potential presidential candidacy. On Tuesday, the former president is scheduled to appear at an 11 a.m Louisville fund-raiser for Grimes. One hour earlier in Frankfort, the Legislative Ethics Commission will open a hearing into sexual harassment complaints against former Democratic state Rep. John Arnold.

Yeah, karma sure has a sense of humor.

Every time I sit down to write a column about the General Assembly, the lyrics of Jimmy Buffett's Useless but Important Information come to mind. Can't imagine why.

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