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ACLU asks Justice Department to investigate Florida clemency changes

Monday, April 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The ACLU has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to find out whether Florida’s new clemency process negatively impacts minority voting rights.

The new rules, pushed by Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi and adopted by the all-GOP Florida Cabinet on March 9, require felons to wait at least five years before they can ask to have their civil rights, including the right to vote, restored.

The change will affect more than a million Floridians, many of whom are minorities, who make up half of the state’s prison population, according to The Sentencing Project.

The ACLU wants DOJ to review the new rules the Voting Rights Act.

“The changes were nothing more than a highly targeted effort to prevent a group of people – mostly minorities – from gaining access to the ballot box,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “The changes, including the secretive and rushed process by which the rules were created, smack of raw politics and intentional, racially focused election manipulation – and it requires review by the Justice Department.”

Scott, clemency board do away with automatic restoration of rights for felons

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

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.

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No delay in clemency vote

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi wants a vote on changes to the state’s limited automatic restoration of rights for felons although her proposed rules won’t be available until the day of the vote.

Bondi and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the board of executive clemency, are slated to vote on her proposed rule changes Wednesday at a special meeting of the board.

Bondi, elected in November, wants to do away with the current automatic restoration of rights, including the right to vote, for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes, impose a three-to-five year waiting period before they can apply to have their rights restored and add more crimes to the list barring felons from regaining their civil rights.

Bondi met with ACLU executive director Howard Simon and NAACP Florida VP Dale Landry last week. The civil rights advocates asked Bondi to hold off on the vote until the public could scrutinize her proposed rules and give their input.

Bondi’s staff said last week she plans to ask for a vote Wednesday and that the rules won’t be available until then.

ACLU asks clemency board to slow down on changes to restoration of rights

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Civil rights advocates are asking the clemency board to hold off on changes to the state’s restoration of rights for felons scheduled for a vote Wednesday.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced last week she was drafting a proposed rule change eliminating Florida’s limited automatic restoration of rights for felons convicted of non-violent crimes, approved by the executive clemency board under former Gov. Charlie Crist’s urging nearly four years ago.

But the sweeping changes proposed by Bondi, including a wait period of three to five years before felons can apply to have their rights – including the right to vote – restored have not yet been released just two work days before the scheduled vote.

In a letter to board members Bondi, Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon asked the clemency board to delay the vote until the public has time to scrutinize them.

“The combination of suddenness, speed and lack of details have created an environment in which needed input is locked out or sitting on the side waiting to review, analyze and offer suggestions and counsel,” Simon wrote to each of the board members. “There is no emergency that requires action at your meeting next week. Rule changes can be made at any time.”

Simon, who met with Bondi earlier this week, wants the board to get public input before doing away with the current system.

“Any changes will impact Florida families and public safety for years to come. It’s more important to get the process and policy right than to get it done quickly,” he wrote.

No compromise on felons’ rights after Bondi meets with ACLU, NAACP

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi is not backing away from her proposal to do away with Florida’s limited automatic restoration of rights for nonviolent felons after meeting with civil rights advocates today.

But she did say she supported uncoupling current employment restrictions that prevent convicted felons from getting certain occupational licenses unless their civil rights are restored, a lengthy process that could get even more cumbersome if Bondi gets her way.

ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon and Dale Landry, vice president of NAACP Florida conference, met with Bondi for about an hour to discuss proposed clemency rule changes among other things.

The meeting was friendly, Simon said, but Bondi refused to budge on her desire to force felons to wait three to five years to apply to have their rights restored.

“This is a huge problem for the state of Florida,” Simon told reporters afterward. “We’re only going to increase the problem by delaying the period of time for the restoration of civil rights.”

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Bondi to meet with civil rights advocates on restoration of rights

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi is scheduled to meet with Howard Simon, the executive director of the Florida ACLU, tomorrow in what could be a contentious show-down over restoration of felons’ rights.

Bondi, elected in November, said after her first clemency meeting last week she wants to do away with the state’s limited automatic restoration of rights for felons convicted of non-violent crimes. And she wants to reinstate a three-to-five year waiting period before felons who’ve completed their sentences can appeal to the clemency board to have their rights restored.

Bondi’s announcement last week stunned civil rights advocates who’ve been trying to get the board to make it even easier for felons to have their rights restored.

Bondi wants to do away with automatic restoration of rights for felons

Thursday, February 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi wants to do away completely with the state’s limited automatic restoration of rights for felons even as civil rights groups are seeking an expansion of it.

In Florida, certain felons automatically get their rights restored upon completion of their sentences and restitution.

But Bondi, a Republican and former prosecutor, says the current system goes too easy on criminals.

“I don’t believe any felony should have an automatic restoration of rights. I believe you should have to ask and there should be an appropriate waiting period,” Bondi told reporters after a clemency meeting this morning.

Bondi said she wants a three-to-five year waiting period before convicted felons can appeal to have their rights restored.

The years-long waiting period will help clear up a backlog of more than 100,000 convicted felons trying to get their rights back.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the board of clemency, approved new rules nearly four years ago making it easier for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes to have their civil rights restored.

Bondi’s predecessor Bill McCollum cast the lone dissenting vote on the rule change.

Now, felons convicted of nonviolent crimes who have fulfilled their sentences will be 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.

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

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

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