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AUTOMATIC RESTORATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS IN FLORIDA THWARTED

The controversy regarding the restoration of civil rights for convicted felons ended abruptly on Wednesday, March 9, 2011. The process for restoration, prior to this date, was already severely scarred due to the lack of funding the positions necessary for processing the tens of thousands of applications. Rep. Ari Abraham Porth sponsored HJR bill #51 which would have granted felons automatic restoration of voting rights but that was stopped dead in its tracks when the all Republican cabinet, consisting of Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, met to undo the judicious measure that had partially streamlined the voting-rights restoration process for Florida’s felons convicted of non-violent crimes. Rep. Porth’s bill would have put Florida in the company of 47 other states but instead, Pam Bondi’s proposal knocked Florida back into the last century where only two other states lay stagnating – Kentucky and Virginia. Though copies of the rule change were not made available to the public for objection until after the meeting started, Governor Scott signed off on it expeditiously. Now non-violent felons will have to wait five years after completing their sentences to apply for rights restoration.

The 2007 policy, adopted by former Governor Charlie Crist, streamlined the process that gave clemency to thousands of felons who regained their right to vote, serve on a jury and obtain some state occupational licenses. It was geared toward helping ex-offenders become productive citizens and to reduce their risk of recidivism. Even this policy was cumbersome and remained hopelessly crippled due to lack of personnel to process the 100,000 case backlog. But instead of taking the stance to improve this process, which was proven not to promote crime, the Cabinet adopted the new proposal which undermines the rehabilitation and re-entry of felons. This is an especially big hit to African-Americans who comprise a disproportionate number of Florida’s felons. If anything, the Cabinet should have used Governor Crist’s policy as a spring board and then moved ahead with a progressive approach to automatically restore the civil rights to those who have paid their societal dues and seek a fresh start.

This new judicious measure requires that nonviolent felons be crime-free for five years after completion of their sentences before they can apply for restoration of civil rights; more serious and violent felons must be crime-free for seven years after completion of their sentences before they can apply for restoration of civil rights; the classes of crimes considered more serious and violent are expanded to include public corruption and crimes involving minors; completion of sentence includes probation, community control and payment of all fines and restitution.

References:
House Joint Resolution bill #51 (s. 4, Art. VI of State Constitution)
St. Petersburg Times (tampabay.com) March 9, 2011
The Miami Herald – March 9, 2011

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