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Hollywood A-lister promotes childhood literacy in KY

From Robert Weber, Legislative Research Commission 

 FRANKFORT – Actress Jennifer Garner spoke to the state Senate and House committees today on the success of early childhood education programs ran by Save the Children, a nonprofit that first began working with the state’s youth during the Great Depression in Harlan County.

“Thank you so much for having me. It is so wonderful to be back in Kentucky. It is painful to be so close to home and not go visit … my little sister and parents,” said Garner, who grew up in West Virginia where her family still resides.

“I’m here because I believe so much in Save the Children’s early childhood programs, and I hope you will continue to support them. Certainly, what you are doing here in Kentucky, you are doing right.”

Garner, an ambassador for Save the Children, said she wanted to highlight the nonprofit’s success in Kentucky during this tight budget environment. Legislative leaders have said a challenge facing them this session is to craft a 24-month budget while trying to stabilize public retirement systems that have billions of dollars in outstanding obligations.

Testifying alongside Garner was Mark K. Shriver, the president of the Save the Children Action Network, which is a program that works to mobilize Americans to end preventable maternal and newborn child deaths globally and to ensure every child in American has access to a high quality education.

“We are spending over $10 million here in Kentucky to match the $1 million the state has invested in our work,” said Shriver, who previously served eight years in the Maryland legislature.

He said Save the Children currently partners with 31 sites in eight counties, serving 11,154 children in Kentucky. Literacy improvement among program participants was equivalent to an additional 5.7 months of schooling, according to information provided to the Senate Education Committee, and 80 percent of 3-year-olds in the nonprofit’s Early Steps program scored at or about the national range for vocabulary acquisition.

“Our biggest office in the country is in Berea,” said Shriver, adding that the nonprofit has over 300 staff members working full and part time in Kentucky with more than 200 of them stationed in Eastern Kentucky. “Our results here are the best in any state in the union.”

Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, said the nonprofit recently held one of its board meeting at the historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant of Berea College.

“A lot of the people who work in your office are really close friends of mine,” Carpenter said to Shriver during this morning’s Senate Education Committee meeting. “I see them at the store, so I know the work your organization does and the investment and return on dollars. Any time we as Kentuckians can spend a million dollars and get a $10 million return is an excellent return on our dollar. We appreciate you having an office in Berea, and we appreciate the work you do across the commonwealth.”

Rep. Rita Smart, D-Richmond, said during this morning’s House Appropriations and Revenue Committee meeting that Save the Children’s efforts are needed.

“For 32 years as a county extension agent I was aware of the wonderful work that Save the Children does, and we did similar work,” Smart said. “And everything that you said was exactly the way it is. I visited many of those homes…and the collaboration with groups such as yours is much needed.”


Felon voting rights bill gets House approval

Press Release from the Legislative Research Commission

FRANKFORT—The House voted 82-9 today in support of letting the state’s voters decide whether to automatically restore voting rights of convicted felons.

Currently, in Kentucky, a felon’s voting rights can only be restored by a pardon of the Governor. House Bill 70, sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and Rep. George Brown Jr., D-Lexington, would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that, if approved, would allow most felons to have their voting rights restored once their sentence or probation is served.

Voting rights would not be restored under the proposal for felons convicted of treason, intentional homicide and specific sex crimes.

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia currently allow automatic restoration of felon voting rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Attempts to put the question of automatic restoration of felon voting rights on statewide ballot have been made in Kentucky for well over a decade, said Owens, but so far to no avail. Similar bills have passed the House but have never passed the Senate.

“With the growing wave of interest and advocacy in criminal justice reform I’m hopeful that, this year, HB 70 becomes law,” said Owens.

Another lawmaker speaking in support of the measure was Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Eastwood, who asked his colleagues to pass the bill.

“I think it’s time that we bring people back in from the dark. Once they complete their sentence and their probation, and they’re non-violent offenders, I think it’s time to bring them back,” said Miller.

HB 70 now goes to the Senate for consideration.


National Interfaith Call for Criminal Justice Reform

 Tues. February 9, 2016 5:00 EST

On behalf of the Kentucky Council of Churches and the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, we invite you to join a timely discussion with the White House on the status of national legislation to reform the criminal justice system and what the faith community can do to make a difference.

Good bipartisan leadership and hard work led to consensus on legislation that would reduce harsh sentences and the unjust incarceration of many thousands of men and women in federal prisons. [Insert organization] endorsed the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) because it marks a critical turning point in the movement to reform the nation’s criminal justice system. We hope you will join us on Tuesday’s call to help us pass this important legislation.

Our beliefs direct us to protect the dignity and well-being of everyone impacted by the criminal justice system. That commitment extends to people who are victimized by crime, as well as to those who commit offenses. Just punishments never extinguish hope but instead nurture rehabilitation and restoration. Join us in advancing a more compassionate justice system.

Registration is required:


Kentuckians Urge Senator McConnell to Advance Criminal Justice Reform

Press Release from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Contact: Scott Simpson, 202.466.2061,
February 3, 2016 

LOUISVILLE, KY – Today, Kentucky civil rights and religious advocates hosted a press call urging their senator, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to support the pending bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and to bring the bill to a vote on the Senate floor. 

The bill, which would implement urgently needed reforms to the nation’s criminal justice system, was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee more than 100 days ago. It has support from conservatives, liberals, and community advocates from across Kentucky, but Senator McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has yet to schedule a vote on the bill or voice his support for it. The bill provides a rare moment of bipartisan consensus on the critical issue of criminal justice reform, and advocates are urging McConnell to take action.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights took out a radio ad in Louisville urging Senator McConnell to bring this critical bill to the floor. Click here to listen to the ad.

Click here to listen to an MP3 of the call.

Quotes from the call’s participants are below.

Raoul Cunningham, President of the Kentucky Conference of the NAACP

“The NAACP has been actively involved for a long period of time in sentencing reform. This bill is particularly important to us because approximately one in five African Americans in Kentucky can’t vote because of a prior conviction. We hope that Senator McConnell will call this legislation up for a vote.”

Dr. Peggy Cecil Hinds, Interim Executive Director of the Kentucky Council of Churches

“We believe we need an approach to our justice system that embodies the values of fairness, accountability, and the basic human dignity of each person. This legislation will move us closer to those values, and to a more humane, cost-effective system.”

David Horvath of Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice

“Racial bias, both implicit and explicit, keeps more people of color in prisons and on probation than ever before. At no other point in U.S. history have so many people—disproportionately people of color—been deprived of their liberty. Senator McConnell is in a position of influence and leadership and could be instrumental in moving this legislation forward toward passage.  This would demonstrate his leadership and his ability to work in a bipartisan effort, for the sake of all the people he represents, both Democratic and Republican, white and black.”

Darryl Young, Mentor Coordinator at the Kentucky Youth Career Center’s Right Turn Program

“This is a very important bill that needs action. At Right Turn, we seek to help adjudicated youth 16-19 to reenter society as citizens and help them get on the right track. It is very important that we do not do further damage to the youth who have been put into the juvenile system.  They still need an opportunity to be productive citizens and lead productive lives.”

Scott Simpson, Media and Campaigns Director for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington, D.C.

“This is one of the issues where both parties agree that reform is needed. Americans want reform. Polls continue to show that Americans want a justice system reform that’s more fair, protects public safety, and uses our resources efficiently. These issues hit hard in Kentucky and Senator McConnell should step up and advance this bill.”


Upon the Death of Kentucky Retired Senator Georgia Davis Powers

Kentucky Commission on Human Rights

Press Release, Saturday, January 30, 2016

Media Contact; Victoria Stephens, mobile phone-502.641.0760. Please call this number if you would like to speak with Executive Director John J. Johnson this weekend.


That great lady, retired Kentucky Senator Georgia Davis Powers, died in the early hours of this morning. She was 92-years old.

Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Executive Director John J. Johnson said:

“Kentucky turns a page in its history book today. It is in honor and with deep appreciation that we observe the passing of Senator Georgia Davis Powers.

“The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is so very saddened, and we are so very proud of Georgia Davis Powers.

“I, personally, am grieved at the loss of my friend and ally in the struggle through many years for equal rights and equal opportunity.

“Senator Powers was one of our greatest civil rights leaders and one of the grand women of this and the last century from our state. We have lost a cherished, beloved Kentucky daughter and a champion.

“Senator Powers was a brave and fearless African American and female leader for civil rights at a time when basic rights were withheld from African Americans and when women of all races were fighting their way toward equality in our state and country. From the days of segregation, throughout her 21 years as a state senator, after her retirement from the senate, and until her last days, she was a well-known and respected force for equality and people in need.

“She was a key leader in the fight for the end of segregation, for integration in public accommodations, housing, employment, education, for the right of African Americans to vote. She worked for the rights of women on several fronts, for the rights of people who are disabled or ill, and for the rights and needs of the disenfranchised and the poor.

“Georgia Davis Powers forged her way in the Kentucky Capitol in 1967 as the first African American and the first female Kentucky senator. She spoke with eloquence, the strength of conviction, and she became a master politician. She sponsored the open housing law, which passed in 1968, making Kentucky the first state in the south to have a state-level fair housing law.

“She served alongside fellow legislators and officials with dignity, she garnered respect, and she carried with her a singular grace.

“She was feisty, witty, elegant, and she meant business.

“After her retirement, she continued to fight just as hard for the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. She spoke at our events, championed our authority as the state enforcer of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, the Act for which she had fought so hard until it passed in 1966. She spoke for our need to be fully equipped to carry out our job. She supported and worked with us in our efforts to educate people about the human and legal rights to equality and the necessity to eradicate still existing discrimination and prejudice.”

The senator is an inductee of the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame and an inductee of the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians.