Tue September 17, 2013
Kentucky Senate Republican Leader Open to Giving Felon Voting Rights a Second Look
A day after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul called on Republican lawmakers in the Kentucky General Assembly to give restoration of felon voting rights a second look, a prominent GOP state senator says the caucus might be open to the idea.
Speaking at the Plymouth Community Renewal Center earlier this week, Paul said U.S. drug laws disproportionately effect racial minorities.
One of the consequences, Paul said, is voter disenfranchisement for African-Americans.
The senator told west Louisville residents he would lobby leaders in the Republican-controlled state Senate to seek a compromise on House Bill 70.
The bill would automatically give certain felons their rights back and passed the state House in a bipartisan 72-25 vote.
But it stalled in the state Senate this year.
"While many in the caucus have philosophically held beliefs about granting convicted felons voting rights, I am happy to review any new or additional information about the subject brought forth," says state Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, a Georgetown Republican. "I also look forward to hearing more from Sen. Paul on his position."
Currently, former inmates must petition the governor of Kentucky in order to have their voting rights reinstated.
Under HB 70, non-violent offenders would have their rights restored immediately while those convicted of a violent crime would still have to receive a pardon from the governor.
A survey conducted by The Courier-Journal in February showed 51 percent of Kentucky voters support a constitutional amendment allowing felons to regain their voting rights.
Thayer isn't the first Republican leader in the state Senate to be open to the idea, however. Last year, state Sen. Dan Seum of Louisville, who is the GOP caucus chair, came out in support of the proposal.
Reacting to Paul's support for restoring felon has surprised many critics, who welcome the comments while remaining skeptical.
"I don’t want to question his sincerity or lack of sincerity. Evidently, Sen. Paul's had an epiphany," says Democratic state Rep. Owens, who is a co-sponsor of HB 70. "Now the question is whether it takes or whether this is something going to be short-lived and he’s going to have comment later on that is contrary to that."
Paul says he also plans to introduce federal legislation that would restore a felon's voting rights at five years after their release.