Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Biting Legislation

Bills would change constitutional rules for pardons, felon voting rights

The power of governors to issue pardons would be limited, and certain felons could have their voting rights restored, under constitutional amendments approved Tuesday by a legislative committee. The House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee voted 8-3 for a measure to prohibit Kentucky governors from pardoning themselves and pardoning others unless they had been formally charged or convicted of a crime.

House Bill 3, sponsored by Reps. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville, would prohibit blanket pardons of people who had not been charged with crimes, and would require those seeking pardons to apply for the reprieves. Wilkey told the committee that the legislation is not a criticism of Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration.

In 2005, Fletcher issued pardons to all people, except himself, indicted in an investigation of state hiring practices, and he extended the pardon to everyone who might have been indicted under the investigation in the future. Three criminal misdemeanor charges against Fletcher were dismissed in a settlement with Attorney General Greg Stumbo. The committee also approved HB 70, which calls for a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to felons after they complete their sentences. It would not apply to murderers or sex offenders.

Under Kentucky's constitution, felons must appeal to the governor to ask for the reinstatement of their rights to vote, hold office or bear arms. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, would bypass the governor's office when it comes to restoring most felons' voting rights. If approved by the legislature, Kentucky voters would consider HB 3 and 70 in November 2008.

Felon voting? Sketchy subject, not a winning issue. Pardon reform? Thank you, Governor Fletcher.

Campaign finance reforms could be used to kill runoff

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, introduced a campaign finance bill today addressing many key reforms that require candidates to disclose their donors quicker, more often and with some new guidelines.

But that bill, S.B. 159, also could become a vehicle to carry a provision that would eliminate the runoff provision that hangs over this spring's primary election for governor. Both Thayer and Rep. Mike Cherry, a Princeton Democrat who chairs the House state government committee, said they're hearing a growing call for the repeal of the provision, which requires a party's nominee for governor to garner at least 40 percent of the party's vote in order to proceed to the fall general election. If no candidate reaches that threshold in a party's May 22 primary, the top two finishers will face off in a June 26 runoff.

Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, introduced a bill to get rid of that provision. But Cherry said if that bill doesn't go anywhere, the General Assembly could try to ditch the runoff by amending Thayer's campaign finance bill.

The 74-page election campaign fund bill, based on recommendations from a 2005 Kentucky Registry of Election Finance report, contains several key reforms: Adding additional dates by which candidates must disclose their campaign fund-raising and spending. Statewide constitutional officers must turn in their reports 60 days before the primary and general elections in addition to 30 and 15 days, which they must do now. Legislative candidates and local officials only must turn in reports 60 days before their fall general elections -- not before the primaries. Requiring any candidates who spend more than $25,000 in an election to file their reports electronically, which helps registry auditors post the information online immediately.

Requiring committees that spend more than $500 to get involved in referendum or constitutional amendment issues to file reports with the registry. Barring candidates from actively soliciting donations from state employees, regardless of whether they are protected by the state merit system or not. The effective date of those suggested reforms would be Nov. 7, 2007 -- after the current election cycle. But if an amendment eliminates the runoff provision, that would affect this primary, Cherry said.

STOP ATTEMPTING RULES ALTERATIONS! Play your ball as constituted.

Sex offenders would need to provide Web IDs

The Kentucky Senate is expected to pass a bill today that would require convicted sex offenders to provide their Internet user names or other online identities to the state Justice Cabinet. Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, joined other senators today in announcing their support for Senate Bill 65, which they expect to approve later today. The intent of the bill is to protect children from online sexual predators, said Sen Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, its sponsor.

Jones said the measure — which would make it a felony for a convicted sex offender to fail to register Internet user information — has bipartisan support, and he thanked Senate leadership for "fast-tracking’’ the bill. Jones said SB 65 would apply to the state’s roughly 6,150 registered sex offenders.

Excellent proposal. Protect our children, pass bill quickly.

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