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Proposed constitutional amendments would limit pardons

By Nancy Royden, LRC

Frankfort, KY - Legislation proposing constitutional amendments that would limit the governor's ability to grant pardons or reduce criminal sentences received approval in committee Wednesday.

Amendments to the Kentucky constitution must be placed on the ballot and win approval from voters before taking effect. If adopted by the General Assembly, Senate Bill 149 would ask voters:
"Are you in favor of limiting a Governor's ability to grant pardons or commute sentences by prohibiting him or her from granting pardons or commuting sentences during the time period beginning thirty days prior to the general election at which the Governor is elected, and ending the fifth Tuesday succeeding the election by amending the Constitution of Kentucky as stated below?"
The measure advanced out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee with an 8-2 vote after its sponsor, Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, testified on the bill.

"I can tell you today that the people of the commonwealth find the judicial process, with all of the participants and safeguards I previously described, to be superior to the pardoning powers of one individual," he said.

McDaniel shared media headlines from a series of high-profile gubernatorial pardons that took effect in 2019, including for offenders convicted of rape and murder. He said the bill would allow pardons to continue, but it specifies the times when they would not be permitted.

"There are many who believe the power to pardon should remain intact. This is why this amendment does not do away with the power to pardon. It simply restricts that power during the 30 days prior to an election and then between a gubernatorial election and a swearing-in," he said. "That way, if a governor believes in a pardon strongly enough, he or she can stand in front of the voters or have their party stand in front of the voters to decide their opinion of those actions."

He said the legislation would also prevent any more "hiding in the darkness."

"There will be no more allowing the rich and the powerful to influence the scales of justice without the recourse of the voters of the citizens of the commonwealth," McDaniel said.

Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, voted against the bill, describing it as unnecessary. She said that just because some unconscionable pardons occurred in the past, it doesn't mean the current governor or future governors would do the same.

Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, also voted no on the bill, calling it "a knee jerk reaction" to decisions made in 2019. She said she would prefer a different approach that achieves the same goal without limiting the governor's constitutional authority.

"I feel that we need to have a more comprehensive approach to this if we're going to actually address the real issues," she said.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, R-Pikeville, said pardons have put some dangerous people back on the streets and caused many victims to have to relive the crimes all over again.

"It is a substantial thing to change the constitution. That's not something I do lightly, and I don't think that Senator McDaniel does either. But what we did see the last time was unconscionable for many reasons," he said.

The most basic form of local government in Kentucky must not be rejected - the justice system, Wheeler said.

"We were not set up as a kingdom where one person can wholesale reject these principles and, you know, I'm not going to say there's not a time when a pardon is not necessary, but in this particular case, we need to preserve our heritage and our traditional English common law and jural rights, and I think this bill goes a long way towards preserving those important rights in the commonwealth," he said.

This story was posted on 2022-02-17 12:13:22
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