Politics & Government

House overwhelmingly approves measure to give most ex-felons voting rights

A Lexington resident voted Tuesday at the Castlewood precinct at Arlington Elementary.
A Lexington resident voted Tuesday at the Castlewood precinct at Arlington Elementary. Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — The state House gave retiring Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, a standing ovation Thursday for his persistence over the years in pushing a constitutional amendment to give most ex-felons the right to vote, then voted 82-12 to send his measure to the Senate.

Despite garnering support from many House Republicans and Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the measure faces a difficult path in the Republican-controlled state Senate, where it has died in previous years.

State Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he could not support House Bill 70 in its current form, but that the Senate will "keep an open mind." He said the Senate probably won't consider the bill until next month, after the Senate deals with most of its priority bills.

Paul's office said he will testify for the bill when it is considered by a Senate committee.

"I commend the Kentucky House of Representatives for passing House Bill 70 and taking this step forward in restoring voting rights in the commonwealth," Paul said in a statement. "The right to vote is a sacred one in our country and it is the very foundation of our republic. I urge the Kentucky Senate to act on this very important issue."

The bill would affect about 180,000 ex-felons who have completed their sentences but 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 right to vote.

Thayer said he might be able to support Crenshaw's proposal if it includes a five-year waiting period for each qualified ex-felon "to make sure they do nothing wrong during that time."

Thayer also said he would like to see the legislature discuss a measure to require identification of voters at the polls. However, he said he would not try to link bills dealing with the two issues.

During Thursday's House debate on HB 70, House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said the bill is about fairness. He mentioned Crenshaw's long struggle in support of the bill, which prompted the standing ovation.

Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, said he supported the measure because "a debt paid is a debt satisfied."

Rep. Brad Montell, R-Shelbyville, voted for the bill for the first time but said he would try to get it amended in the Senate to spell out exactly who satisfies the requirements of completed sentences.

Crenshaw, who is not seeking re-election this year, said his bill is a measure any democracy should have.