Scott, clemency board do away with automatic restoration of rights for felonsby Dara Kam | March 9th, 2011
Convicted felons who have served their sentences and paid restitution must now wait a minimum of five years before applying to have their rights restored, under changes approved by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet acting as the board of executive clemency today.
The new rules impose a five-year wait period for those convicted of non-violent crimes. Those convicted of violent crimes, including murder or DUI manslaughter, must wait seven years and require a hearing to request to have their civil rights, including the right to vote, restored.
Florida will now join two other states with such severe restrictions limiting former felons from voting.
The board did not release the proposed rule changes to the public until moments before the meeting began and limited public testimony to two-minutes per person for a total of 30 minutes before unanimously approving the changes.
“Felons seeking restoration of civil rights demonstrate they desire and deserve clemency only after they show they’re willing to abide by the law,” Scott said.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, a former prosecutor, first suggested the rule change two weeks ago. But it was Scott’s staff who explained the rules when questioned by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam Wednesday morning.
“I think they’re fair. I believe that there should be a waiting period and I believe that someone should have to ask to have their rights restored. I believe, as a 20-year prosecutor, any felony is a serious crime,” Bondi said.
Civil rights advocates, including five black lawmakers, objected to the rule changes, saying there is no evidence the current process – approved by Gov. Charlie Crist and the former Cabinet in 2007 – is not working.
NAACP vice-chairman Dale Landry said that those who have completed their sentences have paid their debt to society.
“Why do we come back and impose a further penalty?” Landry asked. “What we’re saying is that…I want to impose further sentencing. That’s what we’re talking about doing here.”
Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho accused the board of turning back the clock to Florida’s post-civil war era imposing restrictions “whose sole purpose was to ensure that the former slaves of this state could never reintegrate into the society.”
But law enforcement officials supported the changes.
“I’ve heard the ‘term paid their debt’ ’til I almost rolled out of my chair. Part of the debt is the loss of these rights. They knew it going in,” said Jerry Hill, a 31-year state attorney in Florida’s Tenth Circuit. “Some of them had to work hard to get that designation of convicted felon. Seems to me it’s not unfair that we place some burden on them to earn the designation civil rights restored.”