Senate approves felon voting bill after making major changes - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Senate approves felon voting bill after making major changes

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Sen. Rand Paul Sen. Rand Paul
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer
Rep. Jesse Crenshaw Rep. Jesse Crenshaw
Tayna Fogle Tayna Fogle

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Kentucky's Senate approved the restoration of voting rights for thousands of former felons, but changed the legislation to impose a five-year waiting period.

Before the Senate voted 34-4 on Wednesday Republicans said their amendment was necessary to move the issue forward. House Bill 70's backers said it wouldn't be an improvement over the current process, in which felons must appeal to Kentucky's governor to regain the right to vote.

The hour-long debate during a committee hearing earlier in the day included a visit from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, who testified in support of the bill and said the compromise satisfied him.

"I think five years is a lot less than infinity (not being able to vote) so I think it's progress in the right direction," Paul said. "I think it's a huge step forward."

A standing room-only crowd packed the committee hearing room and Capitol staff set up an overflow room.

The Senate's changes include a requirement that a person who commits a new offense would be banned from voting forever. The House can either agree to the Senate's version or send the bill to a conference committee to work out the differences.

"I will work as hard as I can to make changes," said bill sponsor Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington. "No, I do not think it's as good as House Bill 70."

Democrats said of the 180,000 Kentucky felons eligible to regain their voting rights, the changes would hurt about 100,000 of them.

Senate Republicans said they wouldn't support automatic restoration of voting rights.

"I respect those who disagree with the approach, but I'm going to tell you that House Bill 70 without amendments is not going to get called up for a vote in the Kentucky State Senate," Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said. "This is your best chance to keep this bill moving forward."

A group of former felons attended the committee hearing and said they were surprised by the changes.

"I feel drained and very disappointed in what the committee did," said Tayna Fogle of Lexington, who was convicted of crack cocaine possession in 1991 and regained her voting rights by appealing to two governors.

Others compared the five-year waiting period with an extension of the criminal sentence.

"We could possibly accept that five-year period if you were to say a felon wouldn't have to pay taxes during that period," said Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

House Republican Leader Jeff Hoover, who supports the restoration of voting rights, said he had some issues with the changes, but was glad to see the issue pass the Senate.

"At least we're at a point that we've never been before," he said.

The House has passed the bill in recent years but is has never come up for a vote in the Senate. House lawmakers approved the automatic restoration of voting rights in January on a 82-12 vote.

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