Five prefiled bills in the Kentucky General Assembly propose restoring voting rights for many of the state’s convicted felons, and advocates say they hope reform can be enacted in a state with a high rate of disenfranchisement. The different acts of legislation are sponsored by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, prefiled the first bill in the 2015 legislative session to call for an amendment to the state constitution to allow convicted felons to vote. Subsequent bills were filed by Rep. Darryl Owens, D- Louisville, Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, and Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown.
Kentucky is one of a handful of states that permanently strips a person’s voting rights due to a felony conviction. Currently, only the governor can restore a felon’s voting rights in the state. Kentucky is one of six states in which more than 7 percent of the adult population is disenfranchised, according to a study released in 2012 by the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates criminal justice reform.
Also, 22 percent of Kentucky’s black population is unable to vote because of felony convictions, the second-highest rate among states, according to the study. A person with a felony conviction faces a number of impediments when it comes to re-entering society, with several employers unwilling to hire convicted felons.