FRANKFORT — Nearly 180,000 ex-felons in Kentucky who have fully served their sentences would regain their right to vote under a proposed constitutional amendment that a state House committee approved Tuesday.
House Bill 70, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, would not apply to ex-felons who committed intentional murder, rape, sodomy or a sex offense with a minor.
The legislation has sailed through the Democratic-controlled House in past sessions but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Some Republicans say the measure would benefit Democratic candidates, but House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, told the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs on Tuesday that he doesn't buy that argument.
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The legislation is needed because it "is a matter of fairness," he said. "We are a forgiving society."
Hoover has voted for the proposal in other legislative sessions, but Tuesday was the first time he has testified for it in committee.
Crenshaw said he appreciated Hoover's support and hopes that U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Bowling Green Republican who has come out in favor of the measure, will urge Republican senators to back the bill.
After the committee vote, Paul issued a statement applauding the decision.
"A government of, by and for the people is only possible with a free right to vote," Paul said. "I am committed to securing this right for the people of the commonwealth and I urge the Kentucky House of Representatives to pass HB 70 so this amendment can be placed on the ballot."
Others testifying for the bill in the House committee included the Rev. Patrick Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky; Nita Smith, legislative liaison for the League of Women Voters in Kentucky; and Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville branch of the NAACP.
Cunningham said the issue will be featured during a rally March 5 at the Capitol to celebrate the 50th anniversary of late civil-rights leader Martin Luther King's march on the Kentucky Capitol.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a liberal-leaning group that advocates for environmental and social justice, has scheduled a rally for 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Capitol Rotunda to highlight the issue.
The measure needs at least 60 percent of the vote in both the state House and the Senate to allow Kentucky voters to consider it at the polls in November.
In committee Tuesday, all members except Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, voted for HB 70. Fischer did not vote.
The committee also considered but did not approve HB 35, a measure sponsored by Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, that would let gubernatorial nominees choose their running mates after the primary elections.
Gubernatorial candidates now have to pick their choices for lieutenant governor before raising any money for the May primary elections.
The bill failed, receiving four votes in favor and one against, with three members not voting. It needed five votes to get out of committee.
Some Democrats on the panel said the proposal also needs to include public financing of gubernatorial elections.