Kentucky Senate Passes Restrictions On Gubernatorial Pardons

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The Kentucky Senate passed a bill to limit the governor’s pardon powers in the weeks before and after an election.

Senate Bill 58 would prohibit a governor from issuing a pardon or commutation within 30 days of the gubernatorial election and between the election and inauguration, regardless of who wins.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, filed the bill after former Gov. Matt Bevin made hundreds of controversial pardons as he left office, although McDaniel noted other governors have abused the power in the past. McDaniel said the bill is only a small change and the governor can still issue pardons to anyone he wants.

“What this amendment does is it makes sure that if a governor believes in a pardon strongly enough, he or she or their party can stand in front of the voters to decide the voters opinions of those actions,” McDaniel said. “There will be no more hiding in the darkness of the last minutes of an administration. There will be no more allowing the rich and the powerful to influence the scales of justice without recourse from the voters of the commonwealth.”

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey tried to amend the bill to allow a governor to stop an execution within the time-frame provided in the bill, in case new evidence comes to light right before the inmate is scheduled to die.

“I’ve heard there is a slim chance this could ever happen and yes, that’s exactly right, there’s a very slim chance this could ever happen,” McGarvey said. “Of course, when you talk to a lawyer about a slim chance, we know what that means: it could happen.”

The amendment failed and McGarvey voted to approve the bill anyways, saying he wanted to advance the legislation forward, but he had reservations about the bill going too far, echoing what opponents of the bill said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

The bill passed 33-4 and now moves to the House. Gov. Andy Beshear said he understands why Sen. McDaniel filed the bill.

“The last governor’s pardons at the end of his administration were awful. When you look at the grounds they were made on and many of the actual pardons themselves, you could understand why there has been this reaction,” Beshear said. “But I don’t think that the bad actions of one governor should reflect on another, and I’m certainly going to conduct myself very differently when it comes to pardons.”

The governor has no say in whether a constitutional amendment makes it to the ballot. Kentucky only allows four constitutional amendment questions on the ballot each year and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he expects to meet with House leadership to determine which ones will make the cut from this session.