Politics

Kentucky's New Governor Strips Voting Rights For Felons And Lowers Minimum Wage In Sweeping Reforms

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.

Kentucky’s newly sworn-in Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has issued a series of executive orders undoing much of his Democratic predecessor’s work in one fell swoop.

Not only did Bevin strip the voting rights of around 140,000 former felons, he also reduced the minimum wage for some state employees from $10.10 per hour back to $7.25, Think Progress reported. 

Bevin also issued an order that removes county clerks’ names form marriage licenses, which benefits controversial Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who came under fire for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Though Bevin’s predecessor, former Gov. Steve Beshear, didn’t restore the voting rights to violent felons, Bevin said he doesn’t support Beshear’s use of an executive order to achieve that end.

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Think Progress reports that felons will have to individually petition the governor to have voting rights restored after they have completed their sentences, rather than being automatically granted the right to vote if the felonies were not violent crimes, sex crimes, bribery or treason.

“While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights,” Bevin said in a prepared statement to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people.”

Although those former felons who received a certificate from the state Department of Corrections affirming their voting rights won’t be affected, it’s unclear how many people will be affected. Still, the state’s Democratic leaders aren’t happy with the change. 

“I am extremely disappointed with the executive order on felon voting rights, which to me goes against promises Gov. Bevin made during his campaign. I will continue championing the amendment that will give voters a chance to put Kentucky in line with the vast majority of states on this issue,” said Democratic House Judiciary chairman Darryl Owens.

The change in minimum wage primarily affects the lowest-paid state employees and those who work for vendors contracted with the executive branch. Although the 800 workers who have already received a pay raise can keep them, new hires could be paid as little as $7.25 an hour.

“The minimum wage stifles job creation and disproportionately impacts lower skilled workers seeking entry-level jobs,” Bevin wrote in his executive order. “Wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government.”

 Kenny Colston of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy said Bevin’s move is a step backward in the battle against wage stagnation. 

“While no current employee will see their increased wages be rolled back, this creates an unfair system for any new hires,” Colston explained. “We encourage state lawmakers to take executive orders out of this completely by passing a statewide minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour.”

Sources: Lexington Herald-Leader, Think Progress / Photo credit: Commonwealth of Kentucky