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Voting Rights News

HB 70 passes Senate with waiting period added

February 19, 2014 at 08:31pm

In its 8th year in the Kentucky legislature, House Bill 70 passed the Kentucky Senate for the first time on February 19. The bill, which would restore voting rights to most former felons, passed with a committee substitute that would require a five-year waiting period.

In its original form, House Bill 70 – passed by the House on January 16 by a bipartisan vote of 82-12 – would place on the statewide ballot a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to non-violent felons once they’ve served their full sentence, including probation and parole. The Senate version would add a five-year waiting period beyond probation and parole. The changes would also exclude from automatic restoration anyone convicted of any felony sex crime and anyone with multiple convictions, cutting in half the number of former felons who would benefit from House Bill 70. (The House version of the bill already excluded those convicted of intentional killing, rape, sodomy and sex crimes involving children, as well as treason and bribery in an election.)

Each year since 2005, the voting rights bill has passed the House only to die in the Senate without a vote.

"God is a forgiving God who does not make you wait five years for forgiveness." - Sen. Gerald Neal

The bill with committee substitute passed unanimously out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and a few hours later went to the Senate floor, where it passed 34 to 4.

Because of the changes to the bill, it will pass back to the House, where the House can either accept it with the changes or negotiate a compromise.

Senators Gerald Neal and Reginald Thomas spoke passionately on the Senate floor about the need to pass HB 70 without the committee substitute.

“We’re going to create a whole new category of punishment,” said Neal, who sponsored a companion bill in the Senate. He explained that some felons could be “on paper” for 10 years and still have to wait another five before they can vote.

"God is a forgiving God who does not make you wait five years for forgiveness," Neal said.

“This country has never compromised, Madam President, when it comes to the issue of liberty,” said Thomas. He went on to say, “This bill is not a compromise. … It’s a denial of what’s fundamental in our society, which is the right to vote.”

Other senators said they would vote for the bill with the changes because they wanted to see the bill move forward. A few, including senators Robin Webb and Alice Forgy Kerr, said they hoped the bill would come back to the Senate from the House in its original form – without the committee substitute.

Kerr referred to the five-year waiting period as a “hope buster.”

“I really feel like the God I serve is a God of second chances,” said Kerr. “And I feel like voting is a right, voting is a privilege, but voting is not just for the privileged few.”

"We are a forgiving people. We are a forgiving society. And Lord help us if we ever change from being that way." -Rep. Jeff Hoover

Webb said voting allows people to invest in their communities. “I believe that individuals will do better if they’re invested where they live and where they work. ... And I think democracy requires that.”

Earlier in the day, in a one-hour committee hearing that featured testimony by U.S. Senator Rand Paul in favor of restoration of voting rights, several lawmakers and others urged passage of the bill without the committee substitute.

“The theory behind House Bill 70 is that you want to show the person that they are being welcomed back to society,” said Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, long-time sponsor of House Bill 70. “The committee substitute does the opposite of that.”

“We find, Mr. Chairman, the Senate substitute not to be a bill that will restore rights for felons. But we find that to be a blueprint for suppression of felon voting rights,” said Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP.

Rep. Jeff Hoover, co-sponsor of House Bill 70 with Crenshaw, said restoring voting rights after completion of a sentence is a matter of fairness.

“We are a forgiving people. We are a forgiving society,” Hoover said. “And Lord help us if we ever change from being that way.”

In his remarks, Paul avoided taking sides on the committee substitute, but spoke strongly in favor of restoring voting rights, focusing particularly on the high number of incarcerations for nonviolent drug crimes and the disproportionate impact on people of color.

Many drug crimes are committed in youth by kids “white, black and brown,” but the prison population is disproportionately made up of people of color, Paul said.

“Something’s gone wrong in the war on drugs. … There has become a racial outcome in who’s incarcerated in our country,” Paul said. He added that sentences are often too harsh.

“Most of us believe in redemption,” Paul said. “Most of us believe in a second chance.”

Here are some news articles about the vote:

GOP Senate makes farce of voting rights amendment

Thayer's wrecking ball takes out bill

Kentucky Senate passes watered-down version of voting rights restoration

Gutting of felon voting rights bill angers backers

Ky. felons seeking voting rights get help from Rand Paul

Lifting our voices from Home during the General Assembly

February 3, 2014 at 01:53pm

It’s a long drive from eastern Kentucky to Frankfort; a full day’s work, to say the least. That’s why members of the Letcher County Chapter of KFTC are getting creative to lift their voices around important issues this Legislative Session. 

The chapter is wrapping up a solid week of terrific work around Kentucky’s General Assembly, right here at home. Last Wednesday, several members hosted a Mountain Talk program on local community radio station WMMT 88.7 FM. The program’s theme of Voting Rights in Kentucky followed up on a recent radio news piece covering a lobby day and rally at the State Capitol in Frankfort organized by the Kentucky Voting Rights Coalition. The Mountain Talk featured clips from that rally as well as commentary from former felon Kristi Kendall in Floyd County,WMMT Mtn Talk on HB 70 retired judge Jim Bowling in Bell County, and the father of a former felon/ coal miner, Carl Shoupe in Harlan County.  

Besides the too often told story of firsthand disenfranchisement of themselves or family members, Judge Bowling gave powerful testimony of his experience sitting on the bench, forced to hand down harsh felony convictions for offenses that once were misdemeanors.

A day in the life of a first-time citizen lobbyist

January 21, 2014 at 11:05am

Last week, I began my internship with the Madison County chapter of KFTC. I am currently a student at Eastern Kentucky University, where I will complete my B.A. in their Criminal Justice next semester. As I am one of a seemingly small minority in that program that does not intend to seek employment in a law enforcement career, but would rather find a more social justice focused vocation, I find that KFTC and I share a great many ideas and opinions on our current criminal justice system.

In this blog entry I hope to show exactly what the average lobbyist experiences, and what anyone can help to accomplish by joining an organization like KFTC.

Voting Rights – grassroots persistence leads many to believe this is the year!

January 16, 2014 at 11:07am

Optimism was high as people from all over Kentucky participated in a Voting Rights Lobby Day and Rally at the capitol on Wednesday.

“We met with a couple of senators and representatives. The attitude was totally different today than it was last year,” said Rev. Alonzo Malone of Louisville. “The whole theme today was hope. I was really encouraged. The whole day symbolized hope.”

Malone was one of dozens of people who met with nearly 50 legislators during morning lobbying. They reminded House members of an upcoming floor vote on House Bill 70 (as early as today), which passed out of committee on Tuesday. They pushed senators to see that the bill gets a hearing and vote in the Senate this year.

Voting Rights amendment passes unanimously out of house committee

January 14, 2014 at 12:58pm

lobby8

HB 70, a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to most former felons, just passed unanimously through the Kentucky House Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments. It has passed the House chamber seven times before with wide bi-partisan support, but has stalled in the Senate. Momentum is building for this to be the year. Thanks to bill sponsor Rep. Jesse Crenshaw and committee chair Rep. Darryl Owens for their leadership in advancing this important measure. As minority floor leader Rep. Jeff Hoover said today, the bill is "a matter of fairness." We look forward to seeing many of you tomorrow in Frankfort for a lobby day and rally in support of voting rights in Kentucky.

Ex-felons join Frankfort rally seeking to restore their voting rights

January 13, 2014
Lexington Herald-Leader

Teddi Robillard-Smith and hundreds of people will show legislators how important it is to pass House Bill 70, which has been sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw for many years, and Senate Bill 15, both of which would allow former felons convicted of non-violent crimes to automatically regain their right to vote.

Jefferson County co-hosts Citizen Lobbying 101

December 17, 2013 at 03:18pm

How does a bill become a law in Kentucky? What’s the best way for people to arrange a meeting with their legislators? How can ordinary citizens hold lawmakers accountable?

These questions, and more, were brought to the forefront during Jefferson County's citizen lobbying training on Wednesday, December 11, which took place at the First Unitarian Church in Louisville.

Images that are often associated with the word “lobbyist” are those of corporate lackeys treating policymakers to expensive drinks over a round of golf. It’s a misconception that was quickly broken as community organizers from throughout the state shared their lobbying experiences on both local and state levels.

Singing for Democracy from Lexington to Lynch

November 15, 2013 at 05:53pm

CKY Singing for Democracy We didn’t go to the polls this year, but KFTC members are building a better Democracy and New Power everyday. To keep Democracy alive in November, hundreds of KFTC members gathered in kitchens, living rooms, churches, and community centers to celebrate, vision, and build toward the Kentucky we all deserve. Among the nearly 50 events that occurred on Tuesday November 5th, were at least a couple that really made some noise in celebration and song.

‘Singing for Democracy’ events have become a tradition of the campaign to restore voting rights to former felons in our Commonwealth. So on (no) election day, communities in Lexington and Lynch gathered to sing out in praise and celebration for Voting Rights and Democracy! 

Presentation of Appreciation to City CouncilsIn the coal camp town of Lynch in Harlan County, over 30 people gathered in the Eastern Kentucky Social Club for food, fellowship, and three musical performances by their neighbors and friends. Between music, KFTC members shared stories of local work to build up their home communities through energy efficiency and generation, as well as plans for the road ahead to restore voting rights to nearly 250,000 former felons in 2014. City Council members, mayors, clerks and neighbors spent the evening together, celebrating and building toward a healthier Democracy at home and across Kentucky. The evening’s performers included Stanley Sturgill, Erica Eldridge, and the Mt. Sinai Spirituals, all of Lynch. Rutland Melton, of Lynch, presented Benham and Lynch City Councils with certificates of appreciation for their work with the Harlan Co. chapter to get energy upgrades on homes and city buildings in both towns. 

Senator Carpenter visits Madison County chapter

November 3, 2013 at 10:47am

Last Monday, October 28, the Madison County chapter invited state senator Jared Carpenter to Berea for a lobby meeting, where the senator and KFTC members discussed the upcoming legislative session, including the possibility of Carpenter’s support for KFTC legislative priorities. The meeting began with a brief talk by Carpenter about his own legislative priorities, which included encouraging the growth of industry and infrastructure in Madison County and stopping the heroin trade in Kentucky, which he believed could be done with “tougher punishments for the folks producing and selling heroin.”

Task force hears testimony on voting rights bills

October 22, 2013 at 03:13pm

For the first time, some members of the Kentucky Senate got to hear testimony on the issue of restoring voting rights to former felons.

Myrna Perez

The Interim Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs, with members from both the House and Senate, heard testimony on bills that would allow Kentucky voters to amend the state constitution to automatically restore voting rights to former felons once they’ve served their debt to society.

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