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Bill to restrict governors' pardon power advances

By Jim Hannah, LRC

"Well, it figures. They always get away with it." Those are the words of a child rape victim after hearing Kentucky's prior governor pardoned her rapist. The molester had served less than 18 months of a 23-year sentence.

Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, read the girl's statement while explaining the need for a constitutional amendment to curtail a governor's ability to issue pardons on the way out of office.

The proposed constitutional amendment, known as Senate Bill 58, would prohibit a governor from pardoning or commuting sentences beginning a month before a gubernatorial election and ending with the governor's inauguration. McDaniel stressed that a governor would otherwise be free to issue pardons and commutations.

"There will be no more hiding in the darkness during the last minutes of an administration," McDaniel said. "There will be no more allowing the rich and the powerful to influence the scale of justice without recourse for the voters of the commonwealth."

He said the sections of the Kentucky Constitution granting a governor the power to pardon date back to 1891 when it wasn't unheard to duel - the kind involving guns.

"Things in our society have changed dramatically since that time," McDaniel said. "Many, many things have changed since, including the sophistication and evenness of our judicial system. The power to pardon allows one person to override the judgment of a police officer, county prosecutor, grand jury, jury and in many cases appellate courts ... and impose his or her unilateral opinion upon the scales of justice."

He said the scariest thing is what pardons could be issued in the future.

"We vest in one person, who stands to account to no one, the authority to free anyone to include every person on death row," McDaniel said. "I can tell you today that based on feedback that I have received from every corner of this state, the people of the commonwealth find the judicial process ... to be superior to the pardoning powers of one individual."

Senate Democratic Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, voted for SB 58 despite a failed attempt to amend the bill. McGarvey said the amendment would have ensured a governor maintained the ability to stop an execution in the eleventh hour. He added that political corruption could be removed from the pardon process through statutes and without amending the state constitution.

Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said he thought SB 58 was a good remedy after studying what other states had done to address the issue.

"This wasn't just one individual," Schroder said about the prior governor's pardons. "We've seen this before. It could happen again. We have seen cases in other states where it has happened."

SB 58 passed by a 33-4 vote. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration. If it also clears that chamber, it would be placed on the November ballot for voters to decide.

This story was posted on 2020-02-26 18:58:26
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