FRANKFORT — Two protestors seeking state Senate action on a bill to restore voting rights for non-violent felons who complete their sentences were forcibly dragged from a legislative committee meeting room Wednesday.
A dozen or so advocates for the bill sat in the Senate State and Local Government Committee meeting when, near the end of the meeting 73-year-old Mary Ann Ghosal of Richmond stood, grasping the handles of her walker, and called for the committee to take up House Bill 70, passed by the House on Feb. 13 by a vote of 86-12.
Committee Chair Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, thanked Ghosal and called for order when suddenly two young men, Greg Capillo and Jordan Mazurek, both of Lexington, walked quickly to the area between the witness table and where lawmakers sit, plopped down on the floor and began singing: “Hold on – keep your eyes on the prize.”
As Bowen called them out of order, Kentucky State Police troopers raced to remove the two men, who refused to rise or move. Eventually, six troopers, grabbing the two men by their arms and legs dragged them from the room, as the two men – now joined by other protestors – continued to sing.
But the officers showed considerable restraint – the men were pulled into the hallway and left on the floor where they lay passively with a couple of troopers standing watch over them and the entrance to the meeting room. The other protestors, reporters and photographers gathered around them, the protestors continuing to sing.
Inside, the meeting resumed and when it concluded a short time later, legislators left by a side door, which opens onto an adjacent hallway, avoiding the protestors.
Ghosal, a retired employee of the Math Center at Eastern Kentucky University, said she’s involved in a faith-based group which a few years ago was conducting a voter-registration drive when, “I suddenly heard from people who are disenfranchised.”
Wearing a “Let Us Vote” button and seated on her rolling walker, Ghosal said she’s also troubled because “the great preponderance of (the affected non-voters) are African-Americans. We are disenfranchising for live a huge group of people.”
She said the protest “is a way to try to help people.”
Kentucky is one of only three states that don’t automatically restore voting rights for non-violent offenders who’ve completed their sentences. Presently, ex-felons must apply for a pardon and restoration of their rights to the governor.
But Ghosal said the requirements and the incidence of pardons vary significantly from one governor to another.
Owens this year sponsored the legislation after former lawmaker Jesse Crenshaw fought to pass the measure for years. Last year, the bill was co-sponsored by House Republican Minority Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown and it usually attracts bi-partisan support in the Democratic-controlled House.
But it’s never gotten a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. Last year, Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, amended Crenshaw’s bill to add a five-year waiting period and other requirements but the House refused to accept the changes.
“My sense is that it is the Senate leaders who oppose this,” said Ghosal who added she thinks it would pass if given a vote.