FRANKFORT, Ky. – Gov. Steve Beshear has granted partial pardons to at least eight convicted murderers and 14 rapists over the past five months, allowing them to vote and run for office.
Kentucky Department of Corrections records provided to The Associated Press show that Beshear also granted partial pardons to 23 people convicted of felony sexual abuse.
Beshear has taken action on behalf of 747 released convicts since March, when he streamlined the process for felons seeking to have their civil rights restored.
"Those whose rights have been restored have served their time and paid their debt to society," Beshear said in a written statement. "The primary goal of the corrections system is to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes and return them as contributing members to society."
In Kentucky, convicted felons permanently lose their civil rights unless the governor intervenes.
To make it easier to regain voting privileges, Beshear dropped requirements that felons submit three letters of recommendation and write essays explaining why their requests should be granted.
Some prosecutors object to granting the partial pardons to people convicted of violent crimes.
"In my mind, I never believed those would be the types of people who would be given serious consideration," said prosecutor Linda Tally Smith, former president of the Kentucky Commonwealth's Attorney's Association. "I would think the person who fell victim to these offenders would expect they would continue to be treated as the violent offenders that they are."ardons.
"It is a strenuous process," he said.
In Alabama, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last week asking that convicted felons be allowed the right to vote unless they were convicted of one of 15 crimes — including murder, treason and some sex crimes — cited in state law as reasons for denial.
In Florida, more than 115,000 former felons who completed their sentences have had their civil rights restored since a new state rule went into effect last year. The rule restored rights almost automatically, ending a policy of requiring the Board of Executive Clemency to act individually on every restoration of rights request.
Some Kentucky lawmakers have been pushing for a constitutional amendment under which some felons would automatically have their right to vote and serve in public office restored after they complete their sentences. Those convicted of murder or sex offenses would have been excluded under the measure that passed the House only to die in the Senate.
If it had passed, the measure would have been put on the ballot for Kentucky voters to ratify or reject.
State Rep. Jessie Crenshaw, D-Lexington, has pushed the legislation in each of the past three sessions. While it failed each time, Crenshaw said support seems to be growing.
"It is a controversial issue," Crenshaw said.