HB 70 passes Senate with waiting period added

In its 8th year in the Kentucky legislature, House Bill 70 passed the Kentucky Senate for the first time on February 19. The bill, which would restore voting rights to most former felons, passed with a committee substitute that would require a five-year waiting period.

In its original form, House Bill 70 – passed by the House on January 16 by a bipartisan vote of 82-12 – would place on the statewide ballot a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to non-violent felons once they’ve served their full sentence, including probation and parole. The Senate version would add a five-year waiting period beyond probation and parole. The changes would also exclude from automatic restoration anyone convicted of any felony sex crime and anyone with multiple convictions, cutting in half the number of former felons who would benefit from House Bill 70. (The House version of the bill already excluded those convicted of intentional killing, rape, sodomy and sex crimes involving children, as well as treason and bribery in an election.)

Each year since 2005, the voting rights bill has passed the House only to die in the Senate without a vote.

"God is a forgiving God who does not make you wait five years for forgiveness." - Sen. Gerald Neal

The bill with committee substitute passed unanimously out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and a few hours later went to the Senate floor, where it passed 34 to 4.

Because of the changes to the bill, it will pass back to the House, where the House can either accept it with the changes or negotiate a compromise.

Senators Gerald Neal and Reginald Thomas spoke passionately on the Senate floor about the need to pass HB 70 without the committee substitute.

“We’re going to create a whole new category of punishment,” said Neal, who sponsored a companion bill in the Senate. He explained that some felons could be “on paper” for 10 years and still have to wait another five before they can vote.

"God is a forgiving God who does not make you wait five years for forgiveness," Neal said.

“This country has never compromised, Madam President, when it comes to the issue of liberty,” said Thomas. He went on to say, “This bill is not a compromise. … It’s a denial of what’s fundamental in our society, which is the right to vote.”

Other senators said they would vote for the bill with the changes because they wanted to see the bill move forward. A few, including senators Robin Webb and Alice Forgy Kerr, said they hoped the bill would come back to the Senate from the House in its original form – without the committee substitute.

Kerr referred to the five-year waiting period as a “hope buster.”

“I really feel like the God I serve is a God of second chances,” said Kerr. “And I feel like voting is a right, voting is a privilege, but voting is not just for the privileged few.”

"We are a forgiving people. We are a forgiving society. And Lord help us if we ever change from being that way." -Rep. Jeff Hoover

Webb said voting allows people to invest in their communities. “I believe that individuals will do better if they’re invested where they live and where they work. ... And I think democracy requires that.”

Earlier in the day, in a one-hour committee hearing that featured testimony by U.S. Senator Rand Paul in favor of restoration of voting rights, several lawmakers and others urged passage of the bill without the committee substitute.

“The theory behind House Bill 70 is that you want to show the person that they are being welcomed back to society,” said Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, long-time sponsor of House Bill 70. “The committee substitute does the opposite of that.”

“We find, Mr. Chairman, the Senate substitute not to be a bill that will restore rights for felons. But we find that to be a blueprint for suppression of felon voting rights,” said Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP.

Rep. Jeff Hoover, co-sponsor of House Bill 70 with Crenshaw, said restoring voting rights after completion of a sentence is a matter of fairness.

“We are a forgiving people. We are a forgiving society,” Hoover said. “And Lord help us if we ever change from being that way.”

In his remarks, Paul avoided taking sides on the committee substitute, but spoke strongly in favor of restoring voting rights, focusing particularly on the high number of incarcerations for nonviolent drug crimes and the disproportionate impact on people of color.

Many drug crimes are committed in youth by kids “white, black and brown,” but the prison population is disproportionately made up of people of color, Paul said.

“Something’s gone wrong in the war on drugs. … There has become a racial outcome in who’s incarcerated in our country,” Paul said. He added that sentences are often too harsh.

“Most of us believe in redemption,” Paul said. “Most of us believe in a second chance.”

Here are some news articles about the vote:

GOP Senate makes farce of voting rights amendment

Thayer's wrecking ball takes out bill

Kentucky Senate passes watered-down version of voting rights restoration

Gutting of felon voting rights bill angers backers

Ky. felons seeking voting rights get help from Rand Paul

 

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