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Once Again, KY Lawmakers Consider Restoring Voting Rights

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A bill that proposes restoring voting rights to nonviolent offenders who have served their time has cleared a committee in the Kentucky House. (Greg Stotelmyer)
A bill that proposes restoring voting rights to nonviolent offenders who have served their time has cleared a committee in the Kentucky House. (Greg Stotelmyer)
February 2, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - An effort to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent offenders who have served their time has, once again, sailed out of committee in the Kentucky House to an uncertain fate.

The idea has cleared the full House every year since 2007, but has been repeatedly blocked in the Senate. The legislation would put a proposal on the ballot for a constitutional amendment, for Kentuckians to decide.

Rep. Derrick Graham, a Democrat from Frankfort, is a cosponsor of House Bill 70.

"These people have paid their debt to society," says Graham. "We ought to provide them with hope; we ought to provide them with opportunity. We should be forgiving them."

The latest try comes on the heels of new Gov. Matt Bevin rescinding an executive order by his predecessor that gave tens of thousands of former felons the chance to easily get back their right to vote.

In late November, on his way out of office, then-Gov. Steve Beshear issued the order, a move Bevin blocked soon after taking office last month.

Supporters say their intent has always been to get the constitution changed.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes told lawmakers on the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee Monday that their vote sends a message to the Senate.

"Kentucky is tired of being one of three states that sentences nonviolent, non-sexual-felony offenders to a lifetime of silence," she says. "We're better than that."

In 2014, the Republican-controlled Senate did return a voting rights bill to the House, but several restrictions were added, including a five-year waiting period. In that case, the Democrat-led House rejected the amended bill.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY