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Key Kentucky lawmaker suggests creating pardons commission

Posted at 5:26 AM, Jan 16, 2020

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — After a much-criticized flurry of last-minute pardons by ex-Gov. Matt Bevin, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers predicted Wednesday that lawmakers will try to modify the pardon process.

The process has drawn intense scrutiny since Bevin, a Republican, issued hundreds of pardons between his electoral defeat last November and his final day in office on Dec. 9.

“I think you're going to see something that would come out of the legislature as it relates to pardons," Stivers told reporters.

The Manchester Republican suggested creating a pardons commission that would review cases and make recommendations to the governor.

Several of Bevin's pardons stirred outrage from victims or their families, prosecutors and lawmakers. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, has asked the FBI to investigate.

Two Senate proposals stemming from the controversy already have been filed.

One would give crime victims the right to be notified and heard before the offender in their case gets any pardon or commutation. The language is included in a proposed ballot measure — known as “Marsy’s Law” — that would add multiple protections for crime victims to the state’s Constitution.

Another proposed constitutional amendment would limit a governor's power to grant pardons or commute sentences. It would strip a governor of pardon powers for the month leading up to an election and for the time between an election and inauguration.

Stivers said Wednesday that he wants to do more than deal with the issue of notifying victims before their offender is pardoned.

“I think we should probably have a pardon commission that would ... research these cases and then make recommendations to the governor and then allow him to review them," the Senate leader said.

That process would allow victims, defendants and prosecutors to submit information to the commission, he said. Stivers said he's still researching the issue.

The Senate leader said he thinks any changes would have to be done through a constitutional amendment that would require approval by Kentucky voters.

Among the Bevin pardons that sparked outrage was one involving Patrick Baker, who had served about two years of a 19-year sentence for reckless homicide and robbery in the slaying of a Knox County man in front of his family. Baker's brother held a campaign fundraiser for Bevin in 2018.

Some have applauded the former governor's actions as a show of compassion and righting injustices, including for hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders. But criticism of the pardons has been bipartisan and widespread.