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KY Senate Adds Waiting Period to Restoration of Voting Rights Bill

PHOTO: There's disagreement at the state Capitol between the Senate and House over how to restore voting rights for ex-felons.
PHOTO: There's disagreement at the state Capitol between the Senate and House over how to restore voting rights for ex-felons.
February 20, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Legislation letting Kentuckians vote on a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to most ex-felons has now passed both the House and Senate.

But the Senate added several restrictions to the original House bill, including a five-year waiting period, hurtling the issue toward a potential conference committee showdown.

The House version calls for automatic restoration of voting rights for most ex-offenders.

Republican Sen. Damon Thayer says the bill would have never gotten a vote in the Senate if the waiting period had not been added.

"It's reasonable to give an individual time to reimmerse themselves in society and to prove to the criminal justice system that they can be good citizens," he points out.

Thayer calls the Senate version of the bill reasonable, restorative and redemptive.

But the main author of the bill, Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, says the waiting period sends the wrong message.

Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville chapter of the NAACP, agrees, comparing it to extending an ex-felon's sentence.

"We find that to be a blueprint for suppression of felon voting rights," he says.

Kentucky is one of three states that does not automatically restore a former felon's voting rights.

That means at least 180,000 Kentuckians who have served their prison time and completed probation or parole can still not vote unless they go through the process of seeking a pardon from the governor.

Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal says adding a waiting period is ludicrous and makes no sense.

"We're not doing them a favor by allowing them to vote,” he stresses. “We're doing ourselves a favor. We're doing society a favor to bring people back into full participation."

Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer calls it progress. In the past eight years the Senate refused to take a vote on the issue.

The top Republican in the House, Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, has long supported restoring voting rights without delay. He notes it passed the lower chamber with bipartisan support.

"We are a forgiving society, and Lord help us if we ever change from being that way,” he says. “And, I've always thought this bill was a matter of fairness."

The watered-down bill passed the Senate 34-4 with some senators saying they voted yes reluctantly to move the issue toward negotiations between the two chambers.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY