Pam Newman said her mother served out a felony sentence in Pennsylvania and could vote again in that state, but when her family moved to Kentucky her mother’s voting right was taken away. During a bill hearing Wednesday, Newman pleaded with lawmakers that the time had come for a change to the state’s voting restoration laws. Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) testified on his bill giving state residents a chance to add an amendment to Kentucky’s constitution which would give the General Assembly the right to decide felon eligibility for voting right restoration. Restoring felon voting rights has become an evergreen issue in the legislative session for at least 10 years.
Rep. Darryl Owens (D-Louisville) has sponsored a bill supported by The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, a handful of House Republicans and the ACLU that would allow voting rights restored at the expiration of probation or parole.
Advocates like Newman have said the measure cuts down on recidivism. Stivers said the issue isn’t “something I get up in the morning that is near and dear to my heart,” but he added that he felt bills had failed in the past because they weren’t giving the General Assembly proper authority under the constitution to restore civil rights.
Owens’ bill makes a constitutional amendment for those rights, but the Senate has yet to give it a hearing. “If (Stivers’ bill) does pass … and (is) put on the ballot this November, then next year we could come back and set the parameters for a restoration of civil rights through a legislative function,” Stivers said without impeding a governor’s executive pardon.