Outgoing Kentucky governor issues order restoring voting rights
UPDATE: Governor Matt Bevin rescinded Governor Beshear’s order on December 22, 2015, saying:
While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people.
Governor Bevins went on to sign a major felony expungement bill in April of 2016 that gives many with felony convictions the chance to restore their voting rights.
The outgoing Democratic governor of Kentucky has signed an executive order restoring the right to vote and hold public office to thousands of people convicted of non-violent felonies who have completed their sentences. The order from Gov. Steve Beshear — who leaves office next month — estimates that about 180,000 people in Kentucky have served their sentences yet remain disenfranchised. As a result of the order, 140,000 of those will become immediately eligible to register.
Before today, all convicted individuals were required to apply to regain their right to vote to the governor’s office, which approved restoration of voting rights on a case-by-case basis. The order does not restore rights to those convicted of specified violent crimes, sex offenses, bribery or treason, who will still have to apply for discretionary restoration.
“All of our society will be better off if we actively work to help rehabilitate those who have made a mistake,” Beshear said. “And the more we do that, the more the entire society will benefit.”
Republican Governor-elect Matt Bevin is said to support restoring voting rights to nonviolent offenders, but a spokesperson said he was not notified of Beshear’s order until a few minutes before he announced it. “The Executive Order will be evaluated during the transition period,” she said.
Kentucky was one of only four states that did not automatically restore voting rights to convicted individuals even after they completed all the terms of their sentences. Florida, Virginia, and Iowa still make restoration discretionary for those convicted of felonies; Alabama and Mississippi and a handful of other states make restoration discretionary for certain crimes. A 50-state chart of loss and restoration of civil rights is here.
This new order automatically restores voting rights to convicted individuals who meet certain criteria upon their release. In addition to completing their sentences, they must have paid all restitution and have no charges pending. Those who have already been released can fill out a form on the state Department of Corrections’ website.
The Kentucky legislature has tried and failed numerous times to pass a bill to restore voting rights to convicted individuals. The Republican-controlled Senate would agree only if there was a five-year waiting period, which Democrats refused.
Republican State Rep. Jeff Hoover, the minority floor leader of the state House of Representatives, said he supports restoring voting rights to convicted felons but opposes Beshear’s method of doing it.
“It should be the role of the legislature, not one person, which should address these issues through legislative debate,” Hoover said in a news release. “This is a prime example of this Governor following in the footsteps of President Obama and putting his own agenda above the people of Kentucky and the elected legislators who serve them.”
This is one of several actions Beshear has taken by executive order to accomplish things the state legislature refused to do. In 2011, Beshear used an executive order to create a state health exchange and expand the state’s Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act. In June, Beshear raised the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for some executive branch state employees.
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