Protesters for restoring felon voting rights crash Senate committee

03/04/2015 06:33 PM

FRANKFORT — A pair of protesters interrupted Wednesday’s Senate State and Local Government Committee meeting, urging senators to act on legislation that would restore voting rights for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Greg Capillo and Jordan Mazurek sat with arms locked at the front of the Capitol Annex committee room before they were removed by state police. As they were escorted out they and other supporters began singing the civil rights tune “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.”

The demostrators urged the committee to take up House Bill 70, a perennial issue in the chamber that passed on a 86-12 Feb. 12, in honor of their friend April Browning, a felon who died last year before she could fulfill her wish of voting before her 13-year-old son.

Although they were removed and barred from re-entering the committee hearing, police did not arrest Capillo, 27, or Mazurek, 23. Both are from Lexington and members of the group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

After lobbying the General Assembly for seven years on similar bills and with time winding down in this year’s session, Capillo said he decided to take a more drastic approach Wednesday.

Still, he conceded opinions on the matter may be hard to change. The Senate committee heard a similar bill last year but amended it to include a five-year waiting period, a provision that ultimately doomed the bill once it returned to the House.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to move certain folks with the egos the size that they are, but hopefully it will empower senators who have remained silent on this bill to stand up and speak out,” Capillo told reporters. “The only thing it takes for evil to triumph is for good senators to remain silent.”

But without some kind of waiting period, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer doesn’t see the issue advancing to Gov. Steve Beshear’s desk.

The Georgetown Republican noted the House voted down a floor amendment offered by Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Danville, that set a three-year waiting period before felons would have their voting rights restored.

“If you come to Frankfort and you have an all or nothing approach, generally you’re going to walk away with nothing, and they need to compromise and come forward with a reasonable waiting period,” Thayer said.

“It will work, it’s a good idea, and perhaps that’s something they’d be willing to take a look at next year. But I would recommend and advise that they take the tenor of their debate down a few notches.”

He called the protesters “rude” for interrupting Wednesday’s committee hearing but noted legislators are rarely confronted in such a manner.

“It’s not something you see everyday to have two people link arms and start singing in the middle of a committee meeting, but they’re entitled to their opinion,” Thayer said. “And I thought the state police did the appropriate thing by removing them from the room. It’s certainly one of the oddest things I’ve seen in my years up here.”


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