A Kentucky House committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would give felons the right to vote. The House has passed a similar bill every year since 2007, but the bills have died or been significantly changed in the Senate.
Janet Tucker, of the advocacy group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said that keeping felons from voting disproportionately affects minority communities.
“Those communities really aren’t getting their full vote in our democracy still, so it’s an important issue for our democracy as well as individuals and their rights as citizens,” Tucker said.
Felons convicted of murder and sex offenses are excluded in the House bill.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth estimates that 186,000 felons who have completed their prison sentences can’t vote in the state.
Sen. Robin Webb, a Democrat from Grayson, said Senate Republican support for the measure has been slow but that success stories of felons-turned-citizens have been growing in everyone’s districts.
“Everybody that has a story that contacts a lawmaker and puts a face on this problem is making progress and I think they stand in a much better position than when we started this almost two decades ago,” Webb said.
Last year, Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul testified before a Kentucky Senate committee in favor of a similar bill.The committee approved the bill after making it more restrictive, adding an amendment that excluded felons with multiple prior offenses from voting. The bill did not pass the House with the amendment.
Sen. Paul’s office released a statement earlier this year, also in support of restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons.
“The right to vote is among the most important rights that we have,” said Sen. Paul. “No one should lose this right for life because they spent time in jail for a nonviolent crime. Restoring voting rights for those who have repaid their debt to society is simply the right thing to do. I urge the Kentucky General Assembly to continue moving this issue forward and place an amendment on the ballot.”
Under current law, the governor of Kentucky can grant a felon the right to vote.