Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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January 16, 2014

House passes felon voting rights measure

Republican support strong

FRANKFORT — For the eighth time, the Democrat-controlled House passed a measure to restore voting rights for non-violent offenders who have paid their debts to society, this time with the House Republican Leader as a co-sponsor and with a majority of Republicans voting for it.

But within minutes of passage, the Majority Leader of the Republican-controlled Senate, which has refused to pass the measure seven times previously, said he does not support the “bill as written” and doesn’t see the measure getting a vote anytime soon in the Senate.

House Bill 70, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, would place a constitutional amendment before voters which, if approved, would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences and paid all restitution.

There would be four exceptions: those convicted of intentional murder, rape, sodomy or a sex offense with minors would not be automatically eligible to vote.

Kentucky remains one of three states that do not automatically restore such voting rights. The others are Florida and Iowa. Under Kentucky’s current constitution, ex-felons may petition the governor to restore their voting rights.

Crenshaw said the bill could affect as many as 180,000 Kentuckians who’ve served out their punishments.

Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, co-sponsored the measure this year and he spoke in favor of it on the floor Thursday saying it was “a matter of fairness.” Republicans David Floyd and Brad Montell also spoke in favor of the bill. In fact, 33 of the 46 Republicans voted for the measure which passed 82-12 (one Republican passed).

Hoover praised Crenshaw, who is retiring after this term, for his persistence.

“If there’s ever been an example of a legislator showing persistence and showing commitment to an issue, it’s the gentleman from Fayette 77,” Hoover said, observing House rules not to call another member by name. When he finished, the entire House rose to applaud and honor Crenshaw.

Republicans have traditionally opposed such measures, fearing the ex-felon population might be more inclined to vote Democratic. But Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has presidential aspirations and wants to broaden his appeal beyond traditional Republican constituencies, supports restoring voting rights.

He took to Twitter shortly after the House vote for its passage “and this step forward in restoring voting rights in KY.”

But Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, the state Senate Majority Leader isn’t thrilled with the measure.

“I’m not in favor of HB 70 as it passed the House,” Thayer said. “I believe there is a process in place for the restoration of felon voting rights” (petitioning the governor).”

Thayer has previously indicated he might try to attach a measure he supports — requiring photographic identification to vote — to Crenshaw’s bill but he said Thursday the Senate is unlikely to try to amend a constitutional amendment.

But he said he would consider supporting Crenshaw’s measure if it required a five-year waiting period, something Paul has also suggested. Thayer said he has discussed that with Paul and also said the Senate may hold a hearing on HB 70 at a time when Paul might be available to testify.

Thayer said he has not prepared a bill to require photo identification to vote — something which has passed several states with Republican legislatures but which Democrats contend is a way to depress minority voters who tend to vote Democratic.

Thayer said, “That’s not a factor for me.”

In October, James Lewis, Leslie County Clerk and Elections Committee Chair for the Kentucky County Clerk Association told lawmakers, including Thayer, that in 28 years as county clerk he’d witnessed no incident of voter impersonation.

But Thayer said Thursday he feels strongly about any measure to “protect the integrity of the ballot.”

“You know, there are people who feel strongly about the restoration of voting rights,” Thayer said. “I feel strongly about the necessity of showing a voter ID bill in order to vote.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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