Senate panel advances proposal to limit pardon powers
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers advanced a proposal Wednesday to limit a governor’s pardon powers, reflecting the anger still burning over ex-Gov. Matt Bevin’s flurry of last-minute pardons in 2019.
The proposed constitutional change would prevent the former Republican governor’s successors from doing the same thing in their final days in office. The measure won approval from a Senate committee, sending the proposal to the GOP-dominated full Senate.
The measure 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. If the bill clears the legislature, it would go on the ballot for voters to decide the issue.
Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel, the proposal’s sponsor, read headlines about Bevin’s pardon spree in making the case again Wednesday for the constitutional change.
“This amendment will prevent any more hiding in the darkness of the last minutes of an administration,” he said. “There will be no more allowing the rich and the powerful to influence the scales of justice without the recourse of the voters ... of the commonwealth.”
Bevin issued hundreds of pardons between his electoral defeat and his final day in office in late 2019. Several stirred outrage from victims or their families, prosecutors and lawmakers.
One of those Bevin pardoned was Patrick Baker, whose family had political connections to Bevin, including hosting a fundraiser for the one-term governor. Baker, pardoned for a 2014 drug robbery killing, was convicted for the same slaying last year in federal court.
McDaniel pushed for the same constitutional amendment in 2020 but it failed to get through the legislature. The condemnations of Bevin’s actions continued unabated Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Phillip Wheeler referred to the ex-governor’s actions as “unconscionable.”
“One, it put some dangerous people back out on the streets,” Wheeler said. “It caused many victims to have to relive their crimes all over again.”
Wheeler added that it reflected “a firm rejection by someone who does not respect, I think, one of the most basic forms of local government” in Kentucky — the justice system.
Democratic Sen. Denise Harper Angel was equally critical of Bevin but voted against the measure.
“Simply because the former governor made some unconscionable pardons doesn’t mean the current governor or future governors would do the same,” she said. “And I think the bill is unnecessary.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 149.