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CRC Hears From Northwest Florida Residents

Sarah Mueller

The Constitutional Revision Committee is taking public comments as it prepares to pitch changes to Florida’s Constitution. Members are hearing a lot from Floridians about access to abortion services and restoring voting rights to felons who have served their time.

The CRC meeting drew more than a hundred people to Florida A&M University Wednesday evening. The state’s on its sixth Constitution which was enacted in 1968.

Tallahassee resident Regina Sheridan said she wants the commission to propose less government interference with her right to make her own decision.

“There is nothing more fundamental to a woman’s private life than the right to decide the most intimate, personal and difficult decision of whether to carry a pregnancy to term,” she said.

But Tallahassee resident Chase Cohee said Florida should defend the health care rights of adult women and those of unborn children. He wants the state to restrict abortion.

“Abortion is the most restrictive, the greatest restriction to public access because it takes away the right to life from men and women," he said. "So I am concerned about women’s rights. I’m also concerned about women’s rights of the unborn women.”

CRC Chairman Carlos Beruff said people all over the state have voiced concerns on both sides of the abortion issue.

“Well, we’ve got a variety of things that keep coming up, the Article 1 section 3, but you know the most important thing is that we’re allowing anybody to come up and talk to us," he said. "Some of the ideas that we get aren’t as well defined, but at the end of the day, that’s why we’re having the public process. We want everybody to come talk to us.”

Several speakers asked the commission to allow automatic restoration of felons’ voting rights. More than a million and a half people in Florida can’t vote. Governor Rick Scott and the clemency board reversed the state’s automatic restoration process when he took office in 20-11.

Mark Schlakman with the Florida State University’s Center for Human Rights said too few people are getting their voting rights back. He says about 66,000 people a year complete their felony sentences. But only about 2,600 people have regained their right to vote since Scott took office.

“Florida has at least research indicates more than 25 percent of all of those who are disenfranchised by way of felony disenfranchisement throughout the United States," he said. "It currently has among the more restrictive procedures.”

A lawsuit filed last month accuses Scott and other members of the Florida Clemency Board of denying voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences because of traffic tickets or admitted uses of drugs or alcohol. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is on the constitutional revision Commission and the Clemency Board. She’s also named in the lawsuit. Bondi said the board doesn’t deny someone for traffic tickets unless they’ve racked up around 100 citations.

“I think a lot of the commissioners you’re referring to sometimes ask about multiple traffic tickets, a couple in particular," she said. "But I think there’s a lot of information as well that they can’t discuss with the public.”

Other issues commissioners hear about include water quality, fracking and energy conservation. A few participants are also calling for an independent redistricting commission and open primaries.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.