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Legislator: Bevin Contradicts Himself on Voting Rights, Marriage Licenses

J. Tyler Franklin

A key state legislator on the ex-felon voting rights issue says Gov. Matt Bevin contradicted his own logic on two high-profile issues addressed through executive orders.

On Tuesday, Gov. Matt Bevin rescinded former Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive order that granted voting rights to about 180,000 Kentuckians with non-violent felony convictions, saying that the issue “must be addressed through thelegislature and by the will of the people.”

Bevin issued a separate executive order changing Kentucky’s marriage licenses so county clerks don’t have to sign them.

In a recent interview, Louisville Democratic Rep. Darryl Owens said Bevin is selectively deciding which issues need to be settled by the legislature and which he can settle himself.

“I guess he didn’t think lawmakers needed to be involved in the changing of the names on the marriage licenses. I guess you can sort of pick and choose where you think the legislators need to act,” Owens said.

The marriage license change was requested by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who — in a series of defiant steps that drew national attention — refused to sign the documents after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage this summer. It was among several high-profile executive orders on the same day.

Kentucky is one of the few states in which residents aren’t allowed to vote if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.

Owens said that Bevin’s executive order was “tremendously disappointing.”

“You look at what he did. That raises some questions as to how much support he’s going to give to this particular effort,” Owens said.

On the campaign trail earlier this year, Bevin said that restoring voting rights was “the right thing to do.”

Referencing a Kentucky Public Radio story that quoted Owens last month, Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto defended the governor’s position.

“We agreed with Rep. Owens when he said in November that the restoration of rights should not be up to the ‘whims of the governor,’ and look forward to working with him in a bipartisan manner to address issue in the legislature,” Ditto said on Thursday.

Owens has already proposed a bill for the upcoming General Assembly that would restore voting rights to non-violent felony offenders.

Beshear issued the executive order on ex-felon voting rights last month. Ex-felons had to file a document to have their rights restored. Kentucky State Police did not have numbers available Wednesday on how many people had filed the necessary documents.

Criminal justice advocate Michael Hiser, an ex-felon who was recently pardoned by Beshear, said he believes Bevin should have left Beshear’s executive order in place until the state had a replacement policy.

“I’m not a fan of repealing something without a plan to replace it,” Hiser said.

The state House has for years passed bills that would restore voting rights to non-violent ex-felons. The bills have mostly failed in the state Senate.

In 2014, the Senate approved a voting rights bill after making it more restrictive, adding an amendment that excluded felons with multiple prior offenses from voting. The bill did not pass the House with the amendment.

Hiser received his first felony conviction when he was 16 and racked up several drug convictions over 25 years. Sober for 11 years and done with parole since 2012, Hiser received a full pardon from Beshear on Dec. 7 — restoring his right to vote, serve on a jury and run for elected office.

Hiser said his pardon is bittersweet because of how many still lack the civil rights which he now enjoys.

“We need the right to vote, we need the right to run for public office. We need those rights because they were granted to us by our creator, not by the government,” Hiser said.

Copyright 2015 WFPL-FM. To see more, visit WFPL-FM.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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