Bill to limit governor pardons, commutations around elections passes Senate committee 

Kentucky Lantern

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FRANKFORT — A bill that would limit Kentucky governors’ power to issue pardons or commute sentences was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee Wednesday. 

Senate Bill 126 proposes a constitutional amendment to suspend the governor’s power to issue pardons or sentence commutations from 30 days before a gubernatorial election until the fifth Tuesday after the election, the day of the gubernatorial inauguration. Ultimately Kentucky voters would have to decide whether to enact the measure. 

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ryland Heights, filed the bill after reading a recent Cincinnati Enquirer story about a man convicted of abduction, rape, robbery and murder who was eligible for a parole hearing because former Gov. Matt Bevin had commuted his sentence after losing his reelection bid in 2019. The Kentucky Parole Board later decided the man must serve the remainder of his sentence. 

“I think that it is imperative to the foundational issues of justice in the commonwealth that one individual not be able to short circuit the entirety of a justice system — from the frontline police officer who makes an arrest, to the Supreme Court of the land, who can sentence the condemned to death — is the final adjudicator,” McDaniel said Wednesday. “That power should not rest in one person who will never again stand accountable in front of the voters.” 

The senator previously said the bill is aimed at increasing accountability for governors facing election. 

In 2019, after losing the election to now Gov. Andy Beshear, Bevin, a Republican, issued a flurry of pardons to people convicted of crimes including rape, murder and child abuse.

Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, joined seven Republicans in voting for the bill. 

Sen. Cassie Chambers Armstrong passed on voting in the committee. She explained that she thought what Bevin did “was abhorrent” but wanted more time to speak with stakeholders about the practical implications of the bill. 

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