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Too Many Pardons? Kentucky Lawmaker Wants a Limit After Former Governor Gave Over 600 on His Way Out

Too Many Pardons? Kentucky Lawmaker Wants a Limit After Former Governor Gave Over 600 on His Way Out
Too Many Pardons? Kentucky Lawmaker Wants a Limit After Former Governor Gave Over 600 on His Way Out

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Republican lawmaker resumed his push Wednesday to limit a Kentucky governor’s pardon powers, a fallout from the flurry of pardons granted by the state’s last GOP governor that still spark outrage.

The proposed constitutional change won quick approval from the Senate State and Local Government Committee to advance to the full Senate. If the measure wins approval there, it will move on to the House. Both chambers have Republican supermajorities.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel said he wants to guarantee that what happened at the end of former Gov. Matt Bevin’s term never occurs again. Bevin, who lost his reelection bid, issued hundreds of pardons on his way out in late 2019 — several stirred outrage from victims or their families, prosecutors and lawmakers.

McDaniel’s proposal — Senate Bill 126 — seeks to amend the state’s constitution to remove a governor’s pardon powers in the month leading up to a gubernatorial election and the time between the election and inauguration. If the proposal clears the legislature, it would go on the November statewide ballot for voters to decide the issue.

“This, in essence, is a two-month period out of every four years when a governor could not issue pardons,” McDaniel said during his presentation to the committee on Wednesday.

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During his final weeks in office, Bevin issued more than 600 pardons and commutations. The Courier Journal in Louisville earned a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of Bevin’s actions.

One of the people pardoned by Bevin was Patrick Baker, whose family had political connections to the Republican governor, including hosting a fundraiser for him. Baker was pardoned for a 2014 drug robbery killing but later was convicted for the same slaying in federal court. He was sentenced to 42 years in prison. A federal appellate court upheld the conviction.

On Wednesday, McDaniel put the spotlight on the case of Gregory Wilson, who was convicted in 1988 for the rape and death of a woman. Wilson was sentenced to the death penalty, but Bevin commuted his sentence to life with the possibility of parole after 30 years. The state parole board recently decided that Wilson must serve out the remainder of his life sentence.

“He should have never been eligible for parole in the first place, as he was given a sentence of death,” McDaniel said. His proposal seeks to put the same limits on gubernatorial commutations.

McDaniel has pushed for the same constitutional change since 2020 but has so far been unable to get the measure through the entire legislature. In making his latest pitch Wednesday, McDaniel said his proposal would fix a “deficiency” in the state’s constitution

“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, McDaniel said.

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