Should ex-felons regain rights? Senate should let Ky. voters decide

The word "redemption" kept coming up as Lexington's council heard pleas to which the Republican leaders of the state Senate have repeatedly turned their backs.

The subject was a proposed constitutional amendment to restore the voting rights of most ex-felons.

Six times now, most recently last week, the state House has approved putting the question to voters.

And six times Senate leaders have killed it.

Because of the lifetime exclusion of ex-felons from voting, Kentucky disenfranchises a higher percentage of our people than all but two other states, said councilman Chris Ford. He is seeking a council endorsement of the constitutional amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington.

All Crenshaw's House Bill 70 would do is put to voters the question of whether felons who have paid their debts to society should regain the vote without petitioning the governor and going through a burdensome reinstatement process.

We'd support an even more inclusive amendment. As proposed, it would not restore the vote to those convicted of treason, intentional killing, sex crimes or bribery.

At Tuesday's council work session, one of the speakers was Tayna Fogle, a former captain of the University of Kentucky women's basketball team whose crack cocaine addiction landed her almost seven years in prison. Now she leads a re-entry program for inmates and crusades for voting rights.

Just because someone made a mistake, she said, does not make that person a mistake.

Regaining the rights of citizenship opens the door to becoming a responsible citizen, who cares about the school board and takes an interest in local government.

The more responsible citizens we have in Kentucky, the better for everyone. Prosecutors should think about that before throwing their weight against this amendment.

When ex-felons are denied the vote, their communities lose power, said Judy Johnson, speaking for the League of Women Voters.

Kentucky's draconian law falls heaviest on black communities. Almost one in five African-Americans in the state has lost the right to vote.

But most of the Kentuckians by far who have lost the vote because of criminal records are white. Their communities also lose power, along with the benefits of civic engagement, when people who have paid for their mistakes are permanently barred from participating in our democracy.

We expect felons to redeem themselves by serving their punishments, supporting themselves and paying taxes. We should redeem our commitment to democracy by readmitting them to full citizenship.