Senate rewrites felon voting rights measure, then passes it after Rand Paul testified in favor of the concept

02/19/2014 05:10 PM

With a 34-4 vote, the Republican-led state Senate for the first time approved a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to convicted felons — albeit a changed version that didn’t sit well with many Democrats.

The legislation has been brought in the House for more than a decade by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw a Democrat from Lexington. And on Wednesday, the effort got a boost from Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who lent his celebrity to legislation which would restore voting rights to felons.

That helped land the bill on the Senate floor for the first time. But what the senators voted on was a much different version than what Crenshaw and the full House sent the upper chamber. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, made changes to the bill before a Senate panel on Wednesday.

The most substantive change was the addition of a provision to that requires felons to wait five years before having their voting rights restored. If a person is convicted of a crime — felony or misdemeanor — during that five-year period, he or she no longer gets the right to vote returned.

Crenshaw refused to present the Senate version of the bill in committee.

“The theory behind House Bill 70 is that you want to show the person that they are being welcomed back in to society. The committee substitute does the exact opposite because with each and every entry it has a reason why the person is not to get there rights restored,” Crenshaw said.

Currently after serving their time, felons must file a petition with the governor to ask for their rights to vote back.

The legislation that is now moving through the General Assembly is being offered as a constitutional amendment, which not only requires support of three-fifths of each chamber but also ratification by voters in the next election. The House and Senate will now have to form a conference committee to negotiate a compromise between the two different versions.

Crenshaw said the bill he offered speaks to a line uttered in the Pledge of Allegiance, “and justice for all” the Senate version Crenshaw said reads “and just for some.”

During his testimony earlier in the day, Paul told the committee that restoring felon voting rights is part of a larger issue of civil rights and the war on drugs.

“Most of us believe in a second chance. I think we should get a second chance to vote, but also to work. You want to keep people from committing crimes let them work again,” Paul said. “This is a big issue. This is about committing youthful felonies or misdemeanors and trying to keep this from impairing people’s future.”

“I hope this is the beginning of things we could talk about. Such as maybe some of these crimes could be misdemeanors — maybe some of these things could be expunged from your record after a period of time,” he said.

Thayer said the bill, as Crenshaw wrote it, couldn’t pass the Senate.

And while the bill has stalled on the Senate side in the past, Thayer said that there should be “some level of gratitude” that the chamber took it up this year. That prompted laughter and groans from some in audience.

Last week Thayer told Pure Politics he would like to move a bill requiring Kentuckians show identification to vote, which also could figure into the conference committee negotiations.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, called the Senate’s passage of the bill “a positive step” because it shows sentiment to pass the bill in some form.

And Paul said that at times passing legislation is the art of compromise — with no side getting everything they want.

He told the members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee that it wasn’t his place to work it out, but said he was “hopeful” the House and Senate could meet in conference committee and that, “Y’all will figure it out.”

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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