Voting Rights, Gambling and Ballot Questions on Legislature's Agenda
Even as thousands of Kentuckians marched on the state Capitol last week and called for voting rights for ex-felons, lawmakers have yet to reach an accord on the issue in the 2014 General Assembly. The demonstration Wednesday commemorated the 50th anniversary of a landmark civil-rights march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to end segregation and extend voting rights for African Americans.
But the message this year focused on restoring voting rights to many felons who have served out their sentences. Legislators in the House and Senate are sparring over provisions in House Bill 70, which seeks a constitutional amendment on voter rights restoration.
The House rejected revisions made by the Senate last week that scaled back the number of felons who would be eligible, among other changes.
That pushes the bill toward a conference committee to work out differences, but it’s unclear if lawmakers can reach a compromise.
Other issues that received attention were:
• Rand Paul ballot bill: A bill filed Thursday in the state Senate would allow Rand Paul to run for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2016 and appear on the ballot for president.
In most cases, state law prohibits a candidate from appearing on the ballot more than once.
But Senate Bill 205, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, builds on the argument that the law isn’t intended to prevent a candidate from appearing twice, if at least one of the races is for a federal office.
• Expanded gambling: House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has filed House Bill 584 that would clarify in the constitution his position that all forms of expanded gambling are already legal in Kentucky if the legislature chooses to authorize them.
• Smoking and e-cigarettes: The high-profile "smoke free" bill apparently was pushed off to future sessions when its chief House sponsor, Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, pronounced it dead Thursday.
Westrom said she was told by Gov. Steve Beshear's staff — after Beshear called several members urging support — that the measure did not have the votes to pass the House.
Still, the Senate on Thursday passed a Senate Bill 109 to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.
Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, is backing a similar measure — House Bill 309 — that has passed out of committee and is awaiting a vote on the House floor.
• Rape parental rights: Two bills advanced last week to eliminate the parental rights of convicted rapists who conceive a child through their crime.
The House unanimously passed House Bill 62, by Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder, that terminates the parental rights of first-degree rapists whose crime leads to a child.
In addition, Senate Bill 108, filed by Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
It would eliminate the parental rights for people convicted of rape and felony sodomy or sexual abuse. The bill also requires child support to be ordered and provides an option to the mother to allow visitation.
• Tax incentive bill: Also on Thursday, the House budget committee passed without dissent House Bill 396, which would extend generous additional tax incentives of about $15 million a year to General Electric so it can proceed with a new $325 million investment at Appliance Park.
GE's investment is not going to create more jobs, but make secure the nearly 6,000 at Appliance Park.
The biggest measure expected to move in the legislature next week is the House’s version of the biennial state budget.
A floor vote is expected Wednesday to advance the House budget out of that chamber and over to the Senate, where it is sure to undergo more revisions.