Politics

Some Kentuckians with felony convictions would be eligible to have their voting rights restored under a bill that a Senate committee approved on Wednesday.

The bill would allow Kentuckians to vote on whether to give the legislature authority to determine which felony crimes would be eligible.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester and sponsor of the bill, said previous attempts to restore voting rights have gone about the process wrong.

“The bills that I felt had come before us about restoration of civil rights were not appropriately taken because we, as the General Assembly, did not have the authority per our constitution to do that,” he said.

Currently, only the governor can restore voting rights to those with felony convictions.

Earlier this session, the state House approved legislation 82-9 that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who finished serving time for non-violent, non-sex-related felonies.

Both Stivers’ proposal and the House version are constitutional amendments, meaning they would require at least 60 out of 100 votes in the House and 23 out of 38 votes in the Senate.

If both chambers approve, the measure would appear on the ballot during the general election in November.

Pam Newman, an advocate with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said the Senate version delays the process.

“My main fear is that we’d be stuck in this legislative lockdown, because the legislature would have to decide which felons receive their right to vote back,” she said.

In his last weeks in office, former Gov. Steve Beshear issued an executive order restoring voting rights to about 180,000 people with non-violent felony convictions. Gov. Matt Bevin rescinded that order as one of his first moves in office.

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