FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Louisville lawmaker said committing a crime should not be a life sentence from the ballot box, and he wants to change that.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey said Kentucky is one of two states that permanently bars convicted felons from voting, disenfranchising 300,000 people. The other state is Iowa.
He has filed a bill that would place on the ballot a change to the Constitution that would automatically restore voting rights for convicted felons once their sentences are complete, including probation and parole.
“Once your sentence is complete, and you’ve paid your debt to society, you’re back as a full member of our community," McGarvey said. "You automatically get your right restored to vote."
Amanda Hall spent time in prison for two felony drug convictions. But after she was released, Hall said she felt like she was still being punished on Election Days.
“I just felt so disconnected,” she said. “Voting day was a horrible day for me.”
Hall went through what she called a difficult process and finally had her rights restored by Gov. Matt Bevin. Last November, she voted for the first time in eight years.
“I cried a little, because I was so happy,” she said.
Now the former inmate turned activist is supporting McGarvey's Senate Bill 238. Hall now works for the ACLU and joined McGarvey at a news conference Friday.
“We are a nation and a state of second chances, of the idea of redemption,” McGarvey said. “Once we've said you've paid your debt, you've completed your entire sentence, you should have a voice in your community. That voice comes at the ballot box.”
The bill appears to enjoy a range of support. The Catholic Conference of Kentucky and the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, as well as the ACLU, endorse the bill.
Andrew McNeill, the state director of Americans for Prosperity, said voting restoration is a non-partisan issue.
“When second chances are granted to individuals who made mistakes and repaid their debt to society, then we create the environment for safer streets,” McNeill said.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he supports the concept. He said automatic restoration may be a problem.
“If it's automatic for every single offense that qualifies, I may have some heartburn about that," he said. "I suspect other members might as well."
McGarvey's bill exempts those convicted of murder, sex crimes, treason and election fraud. He opposes a waiting period.
“If they commit another crime, then they'll get their rights taken away. That's the mechanism,” McGarvey said. “There doesn't need to be a waiting period.”
Hall hopes the two sides can agree on a path forward.
“To vote, that's the ultimate,” she said.
Constitutional amendments can only appear on the ballot in even numbered years. So, if McGarvey's bill passes this session, voters would decide the issue in 2020.
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