Pubdate: Fri, 18 Mar 2011
Source: Florida Today (Melbourne, FL)
Copyright: 2011 Florida Today


New State Restrictions on Ex-Convicts' Privileges Raise Troubling Questions

A rush job and a big step backwards for voting rights in Florida.

That's what came down last week when Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial 
Officer Jeff Atwater, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and 
Attorney General Pam Bondi reversed historic civil-rights restoration 
reforms for nonviolent felons created under former Gov. Crist in 2007.

The all-GOP Cabinet's unanimous vote took place in a hastily called 
emergency session with little notice and a scant 30 minutes of public 
testimony allowed, including from NAACP officials who opposed the reversal.

Putnam raised concerns about not having enough time to study the rule 
change but then voted with the majority, resurrecting barriers that 
keep ex-convicts from fully integrating back into communities after 
they've paid their dues to society.

As a result, Florida joins Kentucky, Iowa and Virginia as one of only 
Four states that punitively impose lengthy waiting periods and 
cumbersome hearings before nonviolent felons can have their rights restored.

Those include the right to vote, to serve on a jury, hold elected 
office and apply for dozens of state occupational licenses.

Crist simplified the system for the lower-level offenders who had 
served their time and paid restitution, expediting a process that 
otherwise took years.

The streamlining allowed some 150,000 Florida residents to have their 
rights restored since 2007.

A huge backlog of 100,000 still are waiting in the wings, however.

They now face a five-year wait before they can apply for a chance at 
restoration, along with administrative hurdles that will cause many to give up.

Under Crist's reforms, violent criminals still were required to go 
through clemency board reviews to have their rights restored. And 
those guilty of the worst offenses -- murder and sex crimes -- had to 
wait five years before requesting a hearing.

Tougher standards for more serious offenders are needed, and rightly 
remain in place.

But the reinstated delays for nonviolent felons do nothing to help 
them stay on the right side of the law or step up as responsible 
members of society. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake