FRANKFORT - Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has assumed an active role in backing a Democratic lawmaker's quest to amend Kentucky's Constitution to restore voting rights for some felons who completed their sentences.
Paul expressed his support for the proposal to several Kentucky lawmakers and expects to promote the legislation to a state Senate committee, Paul spokesman Daniel Bayens said Tuesday.
Support from Paul and another prominent Kentucky Republican - House GOP Floor Leader Jeff Hoover - could improve the proposal's prospects in the GOP-led state Senate, where previous versions died.
Paul, a potential GOP presidential candidate in 2016, praised a House committee on Tuesday for approving the proposed ballot measure, championed by Democratic Rep. Jesse Crenshaw of Lexington. The proposal now heads to the Democratic-led House, which has passed the measure by wide margins in the past.
"A government of, by and for the people is only possible with a free right to vote," Paul said in a statement. "I am committed to securing this right for the people of the commonwealth."
The measure is Crenshaw's last bid to get the issue on the ballot after years of failed efforts. The veteran legislator, who is not seeking re-election this year, said he hopes Paul's influence can help sway the Senate.
The measure would be placed on the November ballot in Kentucky if it clears the General Assembly.
It would let Kentucky voters decide whether to amend the state Constitution to automatically restore voting rights for tens of thousands of felons who completed their sentences and terms of probation.
Crenshaw pointed to studies indicating the proposal, if ratified by the electorate, would affect at least 130,000 people who lost their voting rights due to felony convictions.
His proposal would exclude people convicted of intentional murder, rape, sodomy or sex offenses with a minor from having their voting rights automatically reinstated.
The measure cleared the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee with bipartisan support. Hoover was among those testifying in support of the bill.
"I think we are a forgiving people," he said. "And when folks have carried out what the courts have imposed on them ... it's a matter of fairness" that they regain voting rights.
Felons now can have their right to vote restored in Kentucky by petitioning the governor and getting his approval.
The Rev. Patrick Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, said that system is outmoded, a vestige of an era when there were far fewer people convicted of felonies.