Tallahassee, FL – Governor Rick Scott and the Cabinet sitting as the Clemency Board voted to require many ex felons to wait five years before they can seek restoration of their civil rights. James Call reports the move repeals the automatic restoration of rights adopted four years ago by former Governor Charlie Crist and a different Cabinet.
Attorney General Pam Bondi last month said she didn't like the idea of automatic restoration of civil rights and supported a waiting period of up to five years before an ex felon could request the right to vote, sit on a jury and obtain various occupational licenses.
"I believe someone should have to ask to have their rights restore. I believe as a a 20-year prosecutor that any felony is a serious crime and that as law abiding citizens we respect that."
Bondi is supporting a legislative proposal to de-couple occupational licenses from Civil Rights restoration. Governor Scott introduced the proposal to repeal the streamlined process, saying the intent is to protect public safety and create incentives to avoid criminal activity. But supporters of the Crist-era rules, like Senator Tony Hill who spoke before the new rules were released, questioned the need for a change.
"We feel so many people had a second chance that I've been working with ex-felons back in our community in Jacksonville, and we feel that this is a major setback. And I don't even know what led her to even... it's not like she didn't win, she won. So what's the issue?"
Hill wasn't the only one with that question.
The new procedures were not released until moments before the meeting began. Nineteen citizens, including five lawmakers, lined up to comment on rules that they had yet to read. Leon County elections supervisor Ion Sancho holds the U.S. Constitution in the same reverence others have for the Bible. He's been in office since 1988 and this agenda item was the first one to compel him to walk the two blocks from his office to testify before the Governor and Cabinet. While waiting for his turn to speak, he said he smelled politics at work.
"On the campaign trail when candidates like Pam Bondi addressed their very conservative base they used crime as a whipping boy. Being tough on crime and essentially what they do is they are relishing branding ex-offenders for ever as a way to ensure that they get votes and that's to me simply pandering to their base the conservative base simply to show that they are tough on crime."
Representatives for state attorneys, County Sheriffs and Police Chiefs all spoke in favor of the rule change. Jerry Hill is the state attorney for the 10th circuit.
"There should be some burden on the offender it should not be automatic. Bear in mind something. I've heard the term paid their debt until I almost rolled out of the chair. Part of the debt is the lost of these rights. They knew it going in.It was part of the program."
The new rules require non-violent offenders to wait five years after serving a sentence to regain their rights. Violent offenders have a seven-year waiting period and must request a clemency hearing. The board approved the rules unanimously. Afterward. a representative for the NAACP said he knew how the vote would go once he saw the police Chiefs, sheriffs and state attorneys lined up in support of the proposal.