U.S. Senator Rand Paul has given a boost to a state bill that would restore the voting rights of some felons.
Paul spoke before the Kentucky Senate State and Local Government Committee in support of the measure, which then cleared the committee. Paul says the majority of felons affected by the bill are nonviolent drug-users who are victims of the War on Drugs, and he appealed to lawmakers’ compassion.
“Most of us are Christians in this room. This isn’t a religious, you know, exclusion or an exercise that you have to be Christian, but most of us believe in redemption, most of us believe in a second chance,” he said. “I think we should get a second chance to vote, but also to work. You wanna keep people from committing crimes? Let ‘em work again.”
Paul also reminded the panel of the Republican Party’s history of support for civil rights. And he noted the higher incarceration rates of African-Americans in Kentucky, where a fifth of black adults cannot vote due to a felony record.
“There was a time in our society where there were intentional incarcerations based on race,” Paul said. “I don’t think it’s intentional, but there … has become a racial outcome on who’s incarcerated in our country, and I think that’s something that has to be addressed here. Because not only is the incarceration, I think, unfair, then they get out and the voting rights are impaired.”
The measure passed, but not in the form supported by the sponsor. Lawmakers added a five-year waiting period before rights are restored, and an exemption for anyone with multiple offenses. The changes reduce the number of affected felons by more than half.
The original sponsor called the revised measure "justice for some."
The measure has already cleared the House, but it will go back to that chamber as lawmakers review the new limitations.