Bevin signs legislation to restore felons’ voting rights

Dustin Skipworth

Gov. Matt Bevin signed a bill into law on April 13 that will make it easier for felons in Kentucky to have their records expunged and restore their full rights as citizens.

Kentucky House Bill 40 will allow felons the opportunity to submit for expungement five years after probation or the end of their sentence, whichever is the longest.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be able to sign House Bill 40 into law,” Bevin said at the signing. “It is critical that there is an opportunity for redemption and second chances because America is a land that was founded on these principles. The greatness, uniqueness, beauty and extraordinary nature of America is based on the fact that we do give people an opportunity for redemption.”

The law comes after Kentucky’s previous governor, Steve Beshear, filed an executive order to allow released felons to vote shortly before he left office last year. That executive order differs significantly from the one signed last Wednesday.

Under the new bill, felons must follow guidelines for a set period to have their records cleared completely and to meet the requirement for expungement.

The requirements include the five year gap between the felon’s sentence or probation, that the criminal be non-violent and it requires that their crimes not be sexual in nature. The felon will also pay the clerk $100 for the expungement.

Bevin struck down Beshear’s executive order when he took office in December. He sighted a need for the Kentucky legislature to take a role in drafting the change.

“Today, I took action to uphold several commitments I made during my campaign so that we can implement real solutions that will help the people of Kentucky,” Bevin said in a statement in December after striking down the executive order. “While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, for example, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people.”

According to a study done by The Sentencing Project, a grant funded research and reform advocacy group, there were 243,842 disenfranchised voters in Kentucky in 2010. That means about 7 percent of the Kentucky population is not allowed to vote due to felony charges. Kentucky ranks third highest in the nation for disenfranchised voters compared to general population.

Jeff Budziak, a assistant professor of political science at WKU, said the question about felon disenfranchisement boils down to a philosophical question about the purpose of punishment.

“Kentucky is historically pretty aggressive about not allowing felons to vote,” Budziak said. “Your position depends on your preference for what our goal should be for incarcerated people. Is it to rehabilitate them or to express disapproval? Voting is a very symbolically important way to do that.”