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'We Have A Constitutional Problem': Kentucky Bill Reins In Governor's Pardon Powers

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AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
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Kentucky lawmakers took the first step Wednesday toward placing new restrictions on the governor's pardoning powers. A bill with bipartisan backing would establish windows of time around gubernatorial elections when the governor could not pardon or commute sentences.

Arriving just months after a round of highly controversial pardons issued by then-outgoing governor Matt Bevin last year, Senate Bill 58 would block the chief executive from exercising the office's pardoning authority 30 days before a gubernatorial election or in the period between the election and inauguration. It would apply both to governors exiting office and those preparing for a second term.

"We have a constitutional problem in this state" ⁠— that's the message lead sponsor, Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel, says lawmakers heard from constituents across the commonwealth following Bevin's pardons.

The new proposal, he said, only adds most restrictions aimed at keeping governors accountable to the voters for their pardons.

"The fact is a governor served for 1,461 days. Under this amendment, the governor can issue pardons for 1,401 days," McDaniel told reporters. "There is still plenty of opportunity for those that are deserving, but the citizens of Kentucky need to know that if one person is going to short circuit the entire judicial process, there is recourse at the ballot box."

Wednesday, they also heard from 16-year-old Chloe Randall of Erlanger, who decided to speak publicly about her sexual assault at age 12 and how it would feel if her attacker was released.

"My entire life would be different," she told lawmakers. "I'm not sure I would be able to be in a public place without feeling scared or frightened."

The panel also heard from a woman who benefited from a pardon, and a speaker concerned that the restrictions could interfere with the governor's ability to grant eleventh-hour pardons to prisoners on death row.

New language in a separate crime victims' rights bill, known as Marsy's Law, would call for victims to be consulted prior to gubernatorial pardons.

Both bills passed out of committee and now head to the Senate.

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