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Lawmakers seek to limit Kentucky Governor's pardon powers, advances in Senate

If the bill clears the state House of Representatives, it would go on the statewide ballot for voters to decide the issue.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Editor's Note: The above video is from 2020.

The Kentucky Senate on Thursday advanced a proposed constitutional change that would restrict governors from granting pardons in the weeks before and after an election.

The proposal reflects ongoing anger over former Gov. Matt Bevin's flurry of last-minute pardons before he left office in 2019. It won Senate approval on a 25-10 vote and goes to the House next.

The measure would amend the state’s Constitution to curb a governor's pardon powers in 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 statewide ballot for voters to decide the issue.

If ratified by the voters, a governor would still retain pardon powers for all but about two months of a four-year term, said Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel, the proposal’s sponsor.

“All this amendment does is require that a governor, or the party he represents, will have to stand in front of the voters and account for a pardon," he said. “I don’t think that basic accountability for a power that frees murderers to walk the streets is too much to ask. There will be no more hiding in the darkness of the last minutes of an administration.”

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.

Opponents of the constitutional proposal have expressed disgust with the pardons but portray the measure as an overreaction to actions by one executive.

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