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Rights Restoration Coalition Looks To Florida Clemency Board Reforms

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is pushing the state clemency board to ease its rules and clear the way for more felons to regain their rights. The move comes amid an ongoing court battle over 2018's Amendment 4 which restored voting rights to most felons, and a law implementing the amendment which requires them to pay restitution, fines and fees before registering to vote.

The proposals by the coalition, which sponsored Amendment 4, mirror those of state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried who is doubling down on her effort to adopt new clemency rules. 

The FRRC wants the clemency board to remove five, and seven-year waiting periods and reserve hearings for applicants with the most serious offenses. 

We’re pushing the governor [Ron DeSantis] to be bold and courageous and to go further with his clemency policies that allow the enfranchise[ment] of people like me...and everyone that’s here," FRRC President Deasmond Meade recently told reporters.

"We’re understanding that your policies do not only impact people like me, it impacts our family, our love ones and our community," he said, addressing DeSantis. 

Fried suggested similar changes at a January meeting of the clemency board meeting. During the meeting, a proposal unanimously passed allowing those who have waited at least seven years and fulfilled other obligations, but owed restitution, to request a hearing.

"This is a single rule change that is great, but we have a lot more work to do," Fried said at the time. "I look forward to working with the rest our colleagues on getting these meaningful changes in the future.”

Civil rights restoration in Florida has been on the decline since 2011. Amendment 4 only addressed voting rights. Felons seeking to own guns, run for public offices and sit on a jury, still have to go before the clemency board which is comprised of Fried, Governor DeSantis, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Attorney General Ashley Moody. The clemency board currently has a backlog 10,000 applicants.

Meade believes the state's clemency processes aren't the only things requiring change. The Coalition is also making a public plea for prison condition reform, second chance jobs and job licensing reform.

“We do not have to rely on the implementation of amendment four to expand opportunity for jobs that would stimulate our economy that would allow us to carry our fair share of the tax burden and that would allow us to create safer communities,” he said. 

Even as the FRRC turns its attention to more clemency and re-entry issues, the battle over voting is ongoing. Governor DeSantis' administration says it plans to appeal the ruling declaring the state's law regarding repayment of fines, fees and restitution, unconstitutional.