Politics

Gov. Matt Bevin has restored the rights to vote and hold public office for 284 Kentuckians with felony criminal records, though he says the action is pending background checks by the state Justice Cabinet.

State law strips people convicted of felonies of their civil rights to vote, run for office, serve on a jury and own firearms.

Governors have the power to restore these rights to people with felony records by issuing pardons for the convictions.

In an executive action announced Friday, Bevin issued partial pardons for 284 individuals convicted of crimes that didn’t involve violence, sex, bribery or treason.

“The criminal justice system should not exist solely to punish offenders, but also to rehabilitate and assimilate them back into society,” Bevin said in a statement.

“Through this executive action, we are empowering men and women with the opportunity to become contributing members of our communities. Restoring the voting rights of certain prior offenders who have paid their debt to society is a significant step towards achieving this goal.”

The pardons don’t restore the right to own firearms or serve on juries.

Earlier this year, Bevin restored voting rights for 24 Kentuckians. Last year he signed a felony expungement bill into law that allows people to have certain class D felonies cleared if — after completing their sentences — they stay out of trouble for five years and pay a $500 fee.

But during the first year of his administration, Bevin didn’t issue any pardons —the first time in more than two decades that a Kentucky governor declined to do so. Before Bevin, the fewest yearly pardons came from Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who granted them to 265 people in 2007.

As one of his first actions in office, Bevin rescinded an executive order by previous Gov. Steve Beshear that would have made 180,000 people with non-violent criminal records eligible to vote.

According to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, more than 300,000 Kentuckians have lost the right to vote as the result of a felony conviction. About 240,000 of those have served out their sentences.

Kentucky is one of three states (along with Florida and Iowa) that ban people with felony records from voting.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.