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Panel advances proposal to limit gubernatorial pardon powers

Posted at 8:11 PM, Feb 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-19 20:11:52-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Responding to an outcry over some of the previous governor's pardons, a Kentucky legislative panel gave initial approval to a proposal to put limits on the pardon powers of his successors.

The measure cleared the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday. It would amend the state’s Constitution to strip a governor of pardon powers for the month leading up to a gubernatorial election and for the time between the election and inauguration.

The action stems from a flurry of last-minute pardons by former Gov. Matt Bevin, including the pardon of a man who was convicted of raping a child.

Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel said his proposal would impose a “small limitation" on a governor's pardon powers but would bring greater accountability.

“If a governor believes strongly enough in a pardon, 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," McDaniel said.

“There will be no more hiding in the darkness of the last minutes of an administration," he added. “There will be no more allowing the rich and the powerful to influence the scales of justice without recourse from the citizens of the commonwealth."

The proposed constitutional amendment heads to the Senate next. If it clears the GOP-dominated legislature, it would have to be ratified by the state's voters to be added to the state's Constitution.

Bevin, a Republican, issued hundreds of pardons between his electoral defeat in November and his final day in office in December. Several stirred outrage from victims or their families, prosecutors and lawmakers, and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron asked the FBI to investigate.

Among the Bevin pardons that sparked outrage involved 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.

Many of the former governor's pardons drew praise from some as a show of compassion and righting injustices, including for hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders.

The Senate committee approved another proposal Wednesday that would add multiple protections for crime victims to the state’s Constitution.

The ballot proposal, known as “Marsy’s Law,” also heads to the full Senate.

The measure is a reprise of a 2018 crime victims’ rights constitutional amendment that easily cleared the legislature and was approved by Kentucky voters. The amendment was voided when the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the question posed to voters was too vague. The new proposal will remedy those concerns, its supporters say.

One addition to the new measure is a response to Bevin's pardons.

The new provision seeks to ensure crime victims have the right to be notified and heard when a governor considers granting a pardon or sentence commutation to their assailants.

Kentucky’s version of Marsy’s Law would guarantee crime victims have a series of constitutional rights, including the right to timely notification of all court proceedings, the right to be present for those hearings and the right to be heard in any hearing involving a release, plea or sentencing.