Pubdate: Sat, 12 Mar 2011
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2011 Sarasota Herald-Tribune


More Bureaucracy For Those Who've Paid Their Debts to

Rick Scott, the governor who wants to remove regulatory hurdles, has
helped put a big roadblock in the path of freed felons hoping to fully
participate in civic life.

The governor and Cabinet, sitting as Florida's executive clemency
board, voted last week to toughen the process nonviolent felons must
go through to get their civil rights restored.

Before this change, the state used a reformed, streamlined process to
restore rights for nonviolent felons who completed their sentence,
finished probation and made full restitution.

Under the new policy, they will now have to undergo a five-year
waiting period, then begin what can be an arduous application process
for rights restoration. Meanwhile, they can't vote, can't sit on a
jury and can't get certain occupational licenses.

It's a misguided step backward, making the road to reintegration
unnecessarily long and difficult.

Broad and Burdensome

When it comes to felons with records of violent, serious crime,
heightened scrutiny for rights restoration is warranted. But the new
policy unfairly sweeps nonviolent felony offenders into the net. We're
talking about people who have already done their time, finished
probation and made restitution. Obstructing their path back into
society is not in the public interest.

Furthermore, the change - promulgated by state Attorney General Pam
Bondi - was done too hastily and with too little input from the
people who will be affected by the policy. It took Florida years to
improve and streamline its burdensome rights restoration process, but
it took Scott and Bondi just weeks to erase that progress.

The speed with which they acted - on a matter involving other
people's voting rights - doesn't make these politicians look
decisive; it makes them look dictatorial.

Fill Out Form, Then Wait

Under the new rules, nonviolent felons who want their rights restored
must now begin the process by submitting a formal application
involving considerable paperwork requirements. "Each application for
clemency shall have attached to it a certified copy of the charging
instrument (indictment, information, or warrant with supporting
affidavit) for each felony conviction... and a certified copy of the
judgment and sentence for each felony conviction," the rules state.

Obtaining the documentation can be daunting, especially if the records
are old. Some felons may be unable to even finish the

Applications are to be reviewed by the state's parole commission,
which sends them on to the clemency board, where they need the
approval of the governor plus two other members. Failing that, a felon
can try an alternative route that involves a hearing process. If that
is unsuccessful, the felon must wait years before trying again.

Even under the previous, streamlined process, huge backlogs developed.
The new system is more administratively intense, which suggests
logjams will worsen.

Many observers believe that if recovering felons were permitted to
vote, they would trend Democratic. (Bondi and Scott are both
Republicans, as is the entire executive clemency board.) But whichever
way their political sentiments lean, our democracy is in sore need of
higher voter participation. Why move the ballot box further out of
reach for Americans who've paid for their crimes?

Why make it harder for people to join the community dialogue that
matters most?  
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake