Kentucky governor restores voting rights of most felons

Even Felons Shouldn't Lose Right To Vote Forever, Americans Say

FRANKFORT, Ky., Nov 24 (Reuters) - Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear on Tuesday signed an executive order restoring voting rights to most felons in state in an action that he said will affect some 180,000 people.

Once felons have completed their sentences, including any probation or parole, and have made court-mandated restitution, they will have their rights automatically restored as long as they have no additional cases pending, Beshear said.

Previously, felony offenders needed to apply to the governor's office to have their voting rights restored. Now, Beshear said, the Department of Corrections will make the determination.

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"The old system is unfair," Beshear said. "It's counterproductive. We need to be smarter in our criminal justice system. Research shows that ex-felons who vote are less likely to commit new crime and return to prison. That's because if you vote, you tend to be more engaged in society."

The outgoing Democratic governor, speaking to reporters in the state capital, said the order does not cover those convicted of violent, sex-related, bribery or treason crimes.

Kentucky is one of four states that requires its governor to sign off on the restoration of a felon's voting rights.

The issue has long been debated in Kentucky as the state House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, has passed a restoration bill 10 times in the last nine years only for it to die in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, the issue does have broad support as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul urged the passage of a bill that would have restored the right to non-violent felons.

However, even Republican officials who support restoring rights criticized the governor's approach.

"My issue with today's action is not about the restoration of those rights, but the fact once again this governor has chosen to usurp the authority of the Kentucky General Assembly through executive order," state House minority leader Jeff Hoover said in a statement.

Hoover questioned the legality of the governor's action, saying that an amendment to the state constitution was required.

Beshear responded by saying the state constitution gives him the right to restore voting rights.

Beshear has served two terms as governor and was prohibited from running for a third straight time. Earlier this month, Republican Matt Bevin won election and will be inaugurated next month.

A call to Bevin's office has not yet been returned. (Reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Frankfort, Ky., Writing by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)

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Kentucky governor restores voting rights of most felons
A prison cell block is seen following a tour by US President Barack Obama at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
An inmate with mental health conditions is handcuffed to a table while jailed in the Medium Observation Housing at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An inmate with mental health conditions eats is a cell while jailed in the High Observation Housing at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Handcuffs sit on a rail in the High Observation Housing at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An inmate works in the kitchen at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, U.S., on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. California is under a federal court order to lower the population of its prisons to 137.5 percent of their designed capacity after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that inmate health care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A prison cell is seen through the door window following a tour of the cell block by US President Barack Obama at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Inmates with mental health conditions are escorted to the the Correctional Treatment Center Hospital at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A bird flies over barbed wire on top of fences at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, U.S., on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. California is under a federal court order to lower the population of its prisons to 137.5 percent of their designed capacity after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that inmate health care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Inmate Kristina Hazelett, 35, plays with a dog in a cell at the MCSO Animal Safe Haven (MASH) Unit in a former jail that has become a shelter for abused and neglected animals seized in Maricopa County Sheriff's Office investigations, in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "DOGS NICHOLSON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Members of the media in protective vests and face shields take photographs of inmates at the recreation yard inside the Adjustment Center during a media tour of California's Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California December 29, 2015. America's most populous state, which has not carried out an execution in a decade, begins 2016 at a pivotal juncture, as legal developments hasten the march toward resuming executions, while opponents seek to end the death penalty at the ballot box. To match Feature CALIFORNIA-DEATH-PENALTY/ Picture taken December 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Members of the media walk down the corridor inside the Adjustment Center during a media tour of California's Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California December 29, 2015. America's most populous state, which has not carried out an execution in a decade, begins 2016 at a pivotal juncture, as legal developments hasten the march toward resuming executions, while opponents seek to end the death penalty at the ballot box. To match Feature CALIFORNIA-DEATH-PENALTY/ Picture taken December 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A message is seen on the wall at a cafeteria inside the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas August 12, 2014. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a private college based in Fort Worth, Texas, began its bachelor of science in biblical studies program at Darrington, south of Houston, about three years ago. To be accepted, an offender has to be at least 10 years from the possibility of parole, have a good behavior record and the appropriate academic credentials to enroll in a college course. The program, which is largely paid for by charitable contributions from the Heart of Texas Foundation, has more than 150 prisoners enrolled and plans to send its graduates as field ministers to other units who want the bible college alumni for peer counseling and spiritual guidance. The first degrees are expected to be conferred next year. Picture taken August 12, 2014. To match Feature USA-TEXAS/PRISON REUTERS/Adrees Latif (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION SOCIETY RELIGION)
Offenders are reflected in a mirror while studying at a library inside the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary located in the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas August 12, 2014. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a private college based in Fort Worth, Texas, began its bachelor of science in biblical studies program at Darrington, south of Houston, about three years ago. To be accepted, an offender has to be at least 10 years from the possibility of parole, have a good behavior record and the appropriate academic credentials to enroll in a college course. The program, which is largely paid for by charitable contributions from the Heart of Texas Foundation, has more than 150 prisoners enrolled and plans to send its graduates as field ministers to other units who want the bible college alumni for peer counseling and spiritual guidance. The first degrees are expected to be conferred next year. Picture taken August 12, 2014. To match Feature USA-TEXAS/PRISON REUTERS/Adrees Latif (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION SOCIETY RELIGION)
A security official walks past a sign seen inside a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary library located in the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas August 12, 2014. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a private college based in Fort Worth, Texas, began its bachelor of science in biblical studies program at Darrington, south of Houston, about three years ago. To be accepted, an offender has to be at least 10 years from the possibility of parole, have a good behavior record and the appropriate academic credentials to enroll in a college course. The program, which is largely paid for by charitable contributions from the Heart of Texas Foundation, has more than 150 prisoners enrolled and plans to send its graduates as field ministers to other units who want the bible college alumni for peer counseling and spiritual guidance. The first degrees are expected to be conferred next year. Picture taken August 12, 2014. To match Feature USA-TEXAS/PRISON REUTERS/Adrees Latif (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION SOCIETY RELIGION)
An offender grabs lunch from a cafeteria inside the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas August 12, 2014. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a private college based in Fort Worth, Texas, began its bachelor of science in biblical studies program at Darrington, south of Houston, about three years ago. To be accepted, an offender has to be at least 10 years from the possibility of parole, have a good behavior record and the appropriate academic credentials to enroll in a college course. The program, which is largely paid for by charitable contributions from the Heart of Texas Foundation, has more than 150 prisoners enrolled and plans to send its graduates as field ministers to other units who want the bible college alumni for peer counseling and spiritual guidance. The first degrees are expected to be conferred next year. Picture taken August 12, 2014. To match Feature USA-TEXAS/PRISON REUTERS/Adrees Latif (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION FOOD SOCIETY RELIGION)
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