— The outgoing Democratic governor of Kentucky signed an executive order Tuesday to restore the right to vote and hold public office to thousands of non-violent felons who've served out their sentences.
The order from Gov. Steve Beshear — who leaves office next month — does not include those convicted of violent crimes, sex offenses, bribery or treason. Kentucky already restores voting rights to some nonviolent convicted felons, but the felon must apply to the governor's office, which approves them on a case by case basis.
This new order automatically restores voting rights to convicted felons who meet certain criteria upon their release. Those who have already been released can fill out a form on the state Department of Corrections' website.
"All of our society will be better off if we actively work to help rehabilitate those who have made a mistake," Beshear said. "And the more we do that, the more the entire society will benefit."
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Kentucky was one of four states that did not automatically restore voting rights to felons once they completed all the terms of their sentences. About 180,000 in Kentucky have served their sentences yet remain banned from casting ballots.
The Kentucky legislature has tried and failed numerous times to pass a bill to restore voting rights to felons. The Republican-controlled Senate would agree only if there was a five-year waiting period, which Democrats refused.
This is one of several actions Beshear has taken by executive order to accomplish things the state legislature refused to do. In 2011, Beshear used an executive order to create a state health exchange and expand the state's Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. In June, Beshear raised the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for some executive branch state employees.
Democrats control state government until next month, when Republican Gov.-elect Matt Bevin takes office. Bevin could repeal Beshear's order or allow it to stand. Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said Bevin supports restoring voting rights to nonviolent offenders, but added he was not notified of Beshear's order until a few minutes before he announced it
"The Executive Order will be evaluated during the transition period," she said.
Republican State Rep. Jeff Hoover, the minority floor leader of the state House of Representatives, said he supports restoring voting rights to convicted felons but opposes Beshear's method of doing it.
"It should be the role of the legislature, not one person, which should address these issues through legislative debate," Hoover said in a news release. "This is a prime example of this Governor following in the footsteps of President Obama and putting his own agenda above the people of Kentucky and the elected legislators who serve them."