After Changes, Felony Voting Rights Bill Advances In Legislature

Mar 12, 2020

Credit WKU Public Radio

A bill to restore voting rights to some people with felony convictions has taken a step forward in the Kentucky legislature after being expanded to restore other civil rights.

Kentucky is one of two states in the nation that permanently bars people from voting once they are convicted of a felony unless they receive a pardon from the governor.

The proposed constitutional amendment would restore voting rights once an individual completes their sentence for a felony conviction, as long as the crime doesn’t involve election fraud, bribery or sex.

Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville, said that restoring civil rights once people have completed their punishments is an “unqualified good.”

“We understand that’s a question of dignity and it brings that person back into the fold, not only their family, but into our communities,” Nemes said.

The measure passed out of the state Senate earlier this month and passed out of the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs on Thursday after being amended.

The changes include a provision to restore other civil rights—like the ability to own a gun or run for public office—five years after the completion of a felony sentence.

The measure will now be considered by the full House. If it advances there, the Senate would have to either agree to the changes or compromise with House members for it to pass.

Constitutional amendments have to be approved by Kentucky voters during a referendum on Election Day in order to take effect.

Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Republican from Lebanon sponsoring the bill, said that much more will have to be done in order to get senators to agree to the changes.

“Our work is not finished. We have a ways to go to get to the finish line, but this is another step in the process,” Higdon said.

The Senate’s version of the bill would allow the legislature to define the terms of how voting rights would be restored to people with felony convictions. In its original form, the measure would have required a five year waiting period for voting rights to be restored after people complete their sentences.

Keturah Herron, a field organizer with the ACLU of Kentucky, said that advocates have waited too long to pass this bill.

“We need to ensure when Kentuckians reenter our communities that we have total faith in them, that they have dealt with their consequences and we fully embrace them—not just to pay taxes and take care of their children, but to also engage civically,” Herron said.