Gov. Beshear signs executive order restoring right to vote to certain non-violent felons

11/24/2015 02:34 PM

FRANKFORT – Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order on Tuesday setting up the automatic restoration for the right to vote and hold public office to certain offenders once all terms of their sentences have been satisfied.

The order excludes individuals convicted of violent or sex crimes, bribery or treason.

The issue of restoring felon voting rights has been discussed in the legislature for years with little movement on the issue.

Beshear said that he felt the state was denying individuals, who had paid their debt to society.

“The right to vote and the right to hold office are fundamental foundations of our democracy,” Beshear said. “Yet in Kentucky, it’s estimated that we deny those rights to over 180,000 adults. Why? Because at some point in their lives, they’ve been in trouble with the law.”

Under terms of the order, for felons who are currently incarcerated or under probation or parole supervision, the Department of Corrections (DOC) will verify prior to issuing a restoration of civil rights that there are no pending criminal cases, charges or arrests, or outstanding court-ordered restitution. Individuals meeting those criteria will be granted automatic restoration and a certificate of Restoration of Civil rights will be issued.

“As they come out, and as they complete all of the requirements including their probation, their parole, restitution, whatever, then they will automatically receive a certificate of civil rights that will allow them to go register to vote.” Beshear said. “Those that are already out of the system, all they’ll have to do is file an application with corrections. Corrections is only going to check those 3 things.”

Offenders who don’t meet the criteria for automatic restoration, including those convicted of federal crimes, may still individually apply to have the Governor restore their civil rights under the current restoration process.

Beshear noted that he has consistently supported legislative efforts to permit a constitutional amendment referendum on restoration of rights, and wanted to process to play out. When those efforts failed during the 2015 session, he waited until after the November election so as not to politicize the issue during the campaigns.

“We went back to the drawing board, went back to work,” Beshear said. “Honestly, I didn’t do it during the campaign season because I felt like it might become a political issue for both sides, and I didn’t want that to happen.”

Only three other states: Florida, Iowa, and Virginia do not currently restore felons’ voting rights upon final discharge of their sentence.

Former state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw of Lexington, who worked tirelessly in the House for a decade trying to get voter rights restored for non-violent felons, appeared with Beshear today for the announcement.

“Today is a wonderful day for all Kentuckians,” Crenshaw said. “It is democracy at its very best.”

36-year-old Mantell Stevens, a delivery driver from Lexington, who was convicted of possession of a controlled substance 15 years ago and served 30 days in jail and three years’ probation, says that he’s attempted to have his voting rights restored but found the process too difficult. He says that he’ll now be one of the first to apply to have his rights restored.

“What’s really important is what’s on the local level,” Stevens said. “The issues that affect my neighbors. The issues that affect the schools. I now have a voice to elect some of those officials that can help better my community.”

45-year-old Michael Hiser, a marriage and family therapist from Shepherdsville, who battled drug and alcohol addiction for 25 years and is now 12 years clean, is appreciative of Beshear’s efforts, but feels that the order doesn’t go far enough.

“I would make it a blanket pardon for everybody,” Hiser said. “In all reality, if you say that you represent Kentucky, than you should represent every Kentuckian, and every Kentuckian should have a voice.”

Gov.-elect Matt Bevin’s communications director Jessica Ditto released the following statement shortly after the announcement:

“Governor-Elect Bevin has said many times that the restoration of voting rights for certain offenders is the right thing to do,” Ditto said. “We were notified of the Executive Order by Governor Beshear’s staff only a few minutes before the announcement and were not provided a copy of the Executive Order until after the press conference. The Executive Order will be evaluated during the transition period.”

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes released a statement in support of the governor’s executive order.

“I welcome and applaud Governor Beshear’s order restoring voting rights to non-violent felony offenders who have paid their debt to society,” Grimes said. “As I have advocated throughout my tenure as Kentucky’s chief election official, a felony sentence should not equal a life sentence of silence.

“We’ve made great strides to improve our elections in the Commonwealth and, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, this order is another important step forward,” Grimes continued. “But our work is not finished. We must move beyond executive authority and incorporate these vital changes into Kentucky’s Constitution. I will continue to champion automatic restoration of rights for non-violent felony offenders, and I stand ready to work side-by-side with the General Assembly and Gov.-elect Bevin to make that happen.”

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, said in a statement that he’s long been a supporter of allowing low-level, non-violent felony offenders to have their voting rights restored once they have paid their debt to society, but he is concerned that the governor bypassed the General Assembly and issued the executive order.

“My issue with today’s action is not about the restoration of those rights, but the fact once again this Governor has chosen to usurp the authority of the Kentucky General Assembly through executive order,” Hoover said. “This Governor has done that with implementation of Obamacare in Kentucky, and by artificially raising of the minimum wage on state and local agencies which puts additional strains on their already tight budgets. It should be the role of the legislature, not one person, which should address these issues through legislative debate.

“Furthermore I question the legality of the Governor’s action today, as the ability to restore voting rights for convicted felons can only be done through amending Kentucky’s Constitution,” Hoover continued. “House Bill 70, which I was a primary co-sponsor during the 2014 Session, sought to amend Section 145 of our Constitution and let the voters of Kentucky decide whether to amend it. Once again this is a prime example of this Governor following in the footsteps of President Obama and putting his own agenda above the people of Kentucky and the elected legislators who serve them.”


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