Powers' spirit invoked in renewed effort to restore felons' voting rights

Powers' spirit invoked in renewed effort to restore felons' voting rights
Published: Feb. 1, 2016 at 10:39 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 18, 2016 at 12:43 AM EDT
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FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - A House panel took less than 10 minutes to approve unanimously, a bill that would allow those convicted of non-violent felonies to regain their rights to vote.

Supporters have invoked the name of the first woman and first person of color to serve in the Kentucky Senate, who died Jan. 30 at the age of 92.

"Georgia Powers, she said it best," Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-Lexington) told the House Committee on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs on Monday. "Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude and right now, Kentucky is failing!"

[MORE: Loss of a Legend: The death of Georgia Davis Powers]

The proposed changes still would deny voting to those convicted of murder or of any crime that involves the intentional taking of a life. It also would bar voting for those convicted of violent sex crime, or of any sex crime in which a child is the victim.

Those convicted of bribery of an elected official, or any felony involving elections, also would be barred from voting.

But those convicted of non-violent felonies would be eligible to register to vote upon completion of their sentences; whether incarcerated, on probation or parole.

"There's a fundamental fairness to this," Rep. Kevin Bratcher (R-Louisville) told fellow committee members. "Once you clear yourself with the state, the courts etc., pay your restitution, pay your time it's a given that you should be able to do this."

"These people have paid their debt to society," Rep. Derrick Graham, (D-Frankfort) concurred. "We ought to provide them with opportunity. We should be forgiving them."

The measure has passed the House in previous sessions, only to stall in the Senate. Former Gov. Steve Beshear had, by Executive Order, restored rights to those who had completed their sentences prior to leaving office.

Governor Matt Bevin rescinded that order, on grounds that such Constitutional changes are the purview of the General Assembly and Kentucky voters. He's indicated he would sign such changes into law should they pass both chambers and voters approve a referendum to amend the Commonwealth's Constitution.

Without such approval, the only avenue to restore suffrage is an individual pardon from the sitting Governor.

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