Saying Kentucky state senators have been the historical roadblock, Democrat Gerald Neal of Louisville has pre-filed a bill to restore voting rights to certain former felons. Movement on the proposal comes weeks after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke out in favor of restoring felons’ voting rights at the state and federal levels, which many observers argue is an indication the GOP may be changing its view on the issue. For the past six years, the Democratic-led state House has passed similar proposals by wide, bipartisan margins to give convicted felons their rights back. All of those measures have died in the Republican-controlled Senate and often without a hearing. Neal says senators in the Republican caucus are beginning to come around and putting the bill in his chamber first is a better strategy given its history.
“Other versions of the restoration bill have passed the House, but the Senate has never picked it up. There are some indications now particularly from committee chairs and others that they have an interest in this bill,” he says. “The House is not the problem. And hopefully the Senate will not be the problem this time, but what we need to do is bring the focus to the Senate to move this legislation.”
Neal’s proposal has similar language to a bill passed out of the House by a 75-25 vote earlier this year. It would restore voting rights of former felons except for those who committed an intentional killing, sex crime or bribery.
“The fact of the matter is that it’s the Senate that needs to deal with this issue. There’s a willingness of some to do that. I think if it’s put on the floor for a vote I think it’ll pass,” says Neal.
Kentucky is one of a handful of states that bar those with a felony record from voting unless they receive a pardon from the governor.