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Florida's new GOP attorney general aims to undo automatic restoration of felons' rights

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By Dara Kam and John Kennedy

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

— In a shocker for civil rights advocates and Democrats, Attorney General Pam Bondi announced Thursday she wants to undo Florida's limited automatic restoration of rights for felons who have completed the terms of their sentences.

"I don't believe any felon should have an automatic restoration of rights," the Republican Cabinet member told reporters Thursday morning. "I believe you should have to ask, and there should be an appropriate waiting period" of three to five years.

Democrats and civil rights advocates said that if her proposal is approved by the Cabinet, in its role as the clemency board, it would turn back the clock to a dark time in Florida, putting the state back in line with only two others, Kentucky and Virginia, that require felons to apply for restoration of their rights. Some states have waiting periods, but most restore rights automatically when sentences are completed.

"It's hard to think that there isn't a little bit of politics in this because it's so extreme and the basis for it is so out of line with so much development that we've had here in Florida," said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU.

They also questioned why Bondi was proposing the change now, four years after former Gov. Charlie Crist and the previous Cabinet changed a policy that had been in effect in Florida for 162 years. Bondi's predecessor, Bill McCollum, cast the lone dissenting vote in that rule change.

"Nothing has happened that warrants us discarding it," said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

Joyner said she was concerned that the timing suggests it may be aimed at making it more difficult for felons to return to the voter rolls on the eve of another big presidential year. Many are black, she acknowledged, who tend to vote Democratic.

Bondi, a former prosecutor elected in November, has not formalized the proposed rules but expects to have them ready for a vote at a special clemency meeting in two weeks.

"I fundamentally and philosophically oppose the concept of the automatic restoration of civil rights," she said in a statement. "I believe that every convicted felon must actively apply for the restoration of his or her civil rights and that there should be a mandatory waiting period before applying. The restoration of civil rights for any felon must be earned, it is not an entitlement."

Under the policy put into place by Crist, felons convicted of nonviolent crimes who have fulfill their sentences are allowed to vote, hold public office, apply for occupational licenses and sit on juries without applying for clemency, a cumbersome process that can take years. The 2007 change also expedited the process for felons convicted of some violent crimes.

Prior to 2007, criminals convicted of lesser felonies could apply to get their rights restored immediately, but others had to wait at least five years after completing their sentences before applying for a hearing before the board.

Bond said she believes felons who had completed their sentences should have to wait three to five years before they can appeal to have their rights restored. She also wants to add more non-violent crimes, including public corruption, to those that disqualify felons from the automatic restoration process.

And she said the waiting period will allow help state officials handle a backlog of 100,000 applicants trying to have their rights restored.

Florida first banned voting by felons in 1845, and the ban was put into the state constitution in 1868.

In recent decades, controversy surrounding civil rights restoration has clouded Florida's elections.

Voting rights for felons was one of the issues in the disputed 2000 presidential election, when thousands of people, mostly Democratic-leaning black voters, were wrongly purged from voter rolls because of an error-riddled state voter database that misidentified them as felons.

Shortly after Bondi announced her intentions, Democratic lawmakers held a previously scheduled press conference to urge passage of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, that would effectively make it easier for felons to obtain occupational licenses after they complete their criminal sentences.

Smith said Bondi was appealing to conservative voters with her calls for slowing down rights restoration.

"It's tough on crime, bumper-sticker politics," Smith said. "But that flies in the face of what we've seen in other states, even Texas, where people are looking at the economics of crime. Corrections is costly, and the quicker you can integrate someone back into society after they serve their time, the better."

Joyner said, "There has been a process, since Gov. Crist, that should be allowed to stay in place," Joyner said. "We are not talking about just letting it remain easier for non-violent, ex-felons to become citizens again," Joyner said. "What's wrong with that."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam supports a review of the clemency rules and backs Bondi's effort to add more disqualifying crimes, his spokesman Sterling Ivey said in an e-mail.

Putnam "supports incorporating such crimes to stop public officials who abuse the electoral trust from automatically being allowed to vote or run for office again," Ivey wrote.

The other two members of the clemency board, Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, did not respond to questions for comment. All on the board are Republicans.

GREAT IDEA.

This state is going in the right direction now.

Felons are often repeat offenders and if they can prove that they are not repeat offenders in the waiting period, then allowing them to apply to restore the rights that they voluntarily gave up when committing a crime is not right.

Also glad that Governor Scott is against the drug database too, which makes innocent people feel like criminals for filling a prescription.

Proud of both of them!

SORRY, meant that if felons can assimilate into society, and NOT repeat crimes, THEN is the time to consider restoring felon's rights that they lost when they CHOSE to commit a crime.



this is stupid loss my job of 47 k yr for driving on suspened licence in 2001 a 3rd degree felony i have trying to get my rights back since have been told by tallahassee not even on sked until 2012 spent 1 year in jail i spent time picking up trash , washing clothes ,cooking for guards, washing dishes ,cutting grass it cost the county $135 a week to keep me. i lost my house have not worked in 10 yrs if any one had told me the court system would not work with you i would never believe it
""Bondi's predecessor, Bill McCollum, cast the lone dissenting vote in that rule change...""

You asked, I answered!!

Now, get used to democracy with a little d. Remember, you lost that election, you don't get to make the rules!

HEY, so the newspapers and public employee unions gang up an march...we already know that is only 400,000 out of the 19 million Floridians??

NO, you can't have it your way anymore...SO, just go home and pout if you can't play by the rules!
Possession of ANY amount of cocaine is a felony in Florida. A 3rd conviction for Driving with a Suspended license (even if the suspension is merely the result of a failure to pay traffic fines) can be charged as a felony. If you have been convicted of a simple battery (which is a minor misdemeanor), a second battery can be charged as a felony, even if there is no injury to the victim. Shining a laser pointer at someone driving a car is a felony. Such people should be disenfranchised? SO dumb.
It just amazes me that the same people who are screaming fiscal conservatism believe that it is okay to spend millions keeping one time non-violent offenders from voting. If you have commited a non-violent act and successfully complete your court-ordered sentencing, that should be it. If you do not reoffend in that time period, which averages 3 years including probation, your rights should be automatically restored and my public school teachers won't have to be layed off. Win-Win!
I saw this topic on the news tonight.
A former convict was trying to get his hack license back.
Geesh.
It's not as if he's asking to command a nuclear sub.
Give him the license and let him get back to work.
I guess Scott would be happier if he goes back to a prison owned by his GEO Group friend.
Felons are obstructed from becoming productive/contributing to society not only because of the stigma, but by having that held against them on their credit, jobs,college, home rentals, hunting, defending/protection, election by the people, adoption... never-ending. Let em work.

Not talking about heinous crimes: rapists, robbers, etc. But what if the felony crime occurred 10, 20 or 30 yrs ago? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness?

I don't want to pay more taxes to support them and their families.
Elizabeth Gardner, Esq.
2011-02-25 05:03:11.35
How does Bondi feel about slavery? Favors it, I guess.
Waiting time of 3 years is good.If any other crime is committed in the 3 years(be it misdemeanor or felony) lifetime revocation of rights.
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