FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) – Kentucky’s Senate approved the restoration of voting rights for thousands of former felons, but changed the legislation to impose a five-year waiting period.

Before the Senate voted 34-4 on Wednesday Republicans said their amendment was necessary to move the issue forward. House Bill 70’s backers said it wouldn’t be an improvement over the current process, in which felons must appeal to Kentucky’s governor to regain the right to vote.

The hour-long debate during a committee hearing earlier in the day included a visit from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, who testified in support of the bill and said the compromise satisfied him.

“I think five years is a lot less than infinity (not being able to vote) so I think it’s progress in the right direction,” Paul said. “I think it’s a huge step forward.”

A standing room-only crowd packed the committee hearing room and Capitol staff set up an overflow room.

The Senate’s changes include a requirement that a person who commits a new offense would be banned from voting forever. The House can either agree to the Senate’s version or send the bill to a conference committee to work out the differences.

“I will work as hard as I can to make changes,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington. “No, I do not think it’s as good as House Bill 70.”

Democrats said of the 180,000 Kentucky felons eligible to regain their voting rights, the changes would hurt about 100,000 of them.

Senate Republicans said they wouldn’t support automatic restoration of voting rights.

“I respect those who disagree with the approach, but I’m going to tell you that House Bill 70 without amendments is not going to get called up for a vote in the Kentucky State Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said. “This is your best chance to keep this bill moving forward.”

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