Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

January 17, 2014

A right to vote

Paul's support should help get amendment on ballot

ASHLAND — During the past couple of sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly, the fate of a proposed amendment to the Kentucky Constitution that would automatically restore the right to vote for most felons who have completed their sentences has not changed: The proposal has cleared the House of Representatives only to die in the Senate without a vote. 

Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, has again filed a bill — House Bill 70 —  to place the issue on the ballot, but thanks to the support of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, there’s new hope the proposed amendment will not die in the Republican-controlled Senate this time around and Kentucky voters in November will have the chance to vote on the amendment

Paul, a darling of tea party Republicans and a libertarian who likely will run for president in 2016, praised a House committee on Tuesday for approving the proposed ballot measure, championed by the liberal Crenshaw, who is not seeking re-election, making this his final legislative session.

“A government of, by and for the people is only possible with a free right to vote,” Paul said in a statement. “I am committed to securing this right for the people of the commonwealth.”

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, is co-sponsoring the bill with Crenshaw this time and Hoover urged its passage, saying, “It’s a matter of fairness.”

“I think we are a forgiving society,” Hoover said. “When folks have carried out what the courts have imposed on them, I think it’s just a matter of fairness.”

Kentucky is one of only  three states that do not automatically restore the voting rights of felons once certain conditions are met. Those conditions vary from state to state. Two states — Maine and Vermont — do not revoke voting rights for felons, allowing them to vote absentee while in prison. No one is proposing such a liberal change in Kentucky.

Under HB 70, voting rights would be restored automatically in Kentucky for “persons convicted of a nonviolent, nonsexual felony” upon expiration of probation, final discharge from parole, or maximum expiration of sentence. That’s as it should be. A relatively minor offense committed at a young age should not result in a lifetime ban from voting.

If the amendment is ratified by voters, Crenshaw said it would affect at least 130,000 who have lost their voting rights because of felony convictions. Many of those were convicted of relatively minor offenses and have not been charged with crimes in decades. Yet a Kentucky resident convicted of writing bad checks years ago still needs the help of the governor to be able to vote. That’s absurd.

While governors have restored the voting rights of many felons, the Rev. Patrick Delahanty of the Catholic Conference said the current system of appeal to the governor is “arbitrary,” which allows restoration of voting rights “for some felons but not for others and by some governors but not by others.”

He’s right. That’s why this newspaper’s editorial board has supported Crenshaw’s proposals for a number of years, Once they are given the opportunity to weigh in on this issue, we think voters will approve the amendment by a wide margin. Or at least they should.

Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, has again filed a bill — House Bill 70 —  to place the issue on the ballot, but thanks to the support of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, there’s new hope the proposed amendment will not die in the Republican-controlled Senate this time around and Kentucky voters in November will have the chance to vote on the amendment

Paul, a darling of tea party Republicans and a libertarian who likely will run for president in 2016, praised a House committee on Tuesday for approving the proposed ballot measure, championed by the liberal Crenshaw, who is not seeking re-election, making this his final legislative session.

“A government of, by and for the people is only possible with a free right to vote,” Paul said in a statement. “I am committed to securing this right for the people of the commonwealth.”

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, is co-sponsoring the bill with Crenshaw this time and Hoover urged its passage, saying, “It’s a matter of fairness.”

“I think we are a forgiving society,” Hoover said. “When folks have carried out what the courts have imposed on them, I think it’s just a matter of fairness.”

Kentucky is one of only  three states that do not automatically restore the voting rights of felons once certain conditions are met. Those conditions vary from state to state. Two states — Maine and Vermont — do not revoke voting rights for felons, allowing them to vote absentee while in prison. No one is proposing such a liberal change in Kentucky.

Under HB 70, voting rights would be restored automatically in Kentucky for “persons convicted of a nonviolent, nonsexual felony” upon expiration of probation, final discharge from parole, or maximum expiration of sentence. That’s as it should be. A relatively minor offense committed at a young age should not result in a lifetime ban from voting.

If the amendment is ratified by voters, Crenshaw said it would affect at least 130,000 who have lost their voting rights because of felony convictions. Many of those were convicted of relatively minor offenses and have not been charged with crimes in decades. Yet a Kentucky resident convicted of writing bad checks years ago still needs the help of the governor to be able to vote. That’s absurd.

While governors have restored the voting rights of many felons, the Rev. Patrick Delahanty of the Catholic Conference said the current system of appeal to the governor is “arbitrary,” which allows restoration of voting rights “for some felons but not for others and by some governors but not by others.”

He’s right. That’s why this newspaper’s editorial board has supported Crenshaw’s proposals for a number of years, Once they are given the opportunity to weigh in on this issue, we think voters will approve the amendment by a wide margin. Or at least they should.

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