Lawmaker promotes measure to restore felon voting rights

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A House Democrat on Wednesday urged lawmakers to put a constitutional measure on Kentucky’s ballot to automatically restore voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences.

The proposed constitutional amendment would be a permanent and broader follow-up to a voting rights executive order signed last month by Gov. Andy Beshear. That order restored voting rights for more than 140,000 nonviolent offenders who have completed their sentences and fulfilled one of the new governor’s campaign pledges.

Rep. Charles Booker praised the Democratic governor’s action but said “there is still work to do” as he pushed for action on his proposed ballot measure.

“By executive order, it can come,” he said. “And that means by executive order, it can go away.”

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The bill was introduced in early January but remains in committee. If the measure clears the GOP-led legislature, Kentucky voters will decide whether to add it to the state Constitution.

In 2015, former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear — the current governor’s father — signed an executive order that would have automatically restored voting rights to some convicted felons once they completed their sentences. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin rescinded that order once he took office.

The Kentucky Constitution bans convicted felons from voting. The governor can restore voting rights to convicted felons with a pardon.

Bevin issued hundreds of pardons between his November electoral defeat and his final day in office. Several pardons stirred outrage from victims or their families, prosecutors and lawmakers. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, has asked the FBI to investigate.

The ballot measure’s supporters said Wednesday that about 312,000 Kentuckians of voting age were not allowed to vote last year because of the state’s “harsh voter disenfranchisement laws.”

“Once you have completed your sentence, you should be able to get back on your feet,” Booker said. “You should be able to have your voice heard again.”

The Louisville lawmaker’s measure would automatically restore felon voting rights after completion of a prison sentence, probation or parole. More than a dozen House members, all Democrats, have signed on as co-sponsors.

Booker is among several Democrats seeking their party’s nomination this year for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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The legislation is House Bill 6.

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