Group urges haste in plan to restore felons' rights
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02/29/08 Mitch E. Perry
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Yesterday a state advocacy group called for new changes in the restoration of civil rights to ex-felons.

Last April, Gov. Charlie Crist and other members of the Board of Executive Clemency approved a change that sped up some civil rights restorations for ex-offenders who had finished their sentences in Florida.

But the procedure is still anything but automatic. And a group, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, has been authorized to see how the process might work better.

Muslima Lewis is the director of the ACLU of Florida Voting Rights and Racial Justice Projects.

On Thursday, the group presented two key changes that they believe can expedite the process.

Mark Schlakman is the senior program director for the Center of the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University, and as part of the coalition was asked by CFO Alex Sink to prepare a plan to achieve a more comprehensive way of restoring ex-felons their civil rights.

Schlakman says that could be done by state agencies, regulating agencies or licensing boards that already have oversite authority over industries and occupations.

The Executive Clemency Board is supposed to have the ability to restore civil and voting rights – not decide whether ex convicts should be considered "safe enough" to work at any job in the state. That distinction has been blurred over the years, and now is part of the consideration of the Board in deciding whether or not to grant a citizen his or her civil rights restored.

Schlakman says this first proposal would streamline the process and more effectively deal with public safety issues.

He believes that by unpacking the Clemency Board from being considering the public safety issue in allowing an ex-con to go out in Florida to resume a job or career, the process will work more smoothly.

To make this change would require an act by the Florida Legislature. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee has already said it will propose legislation on this – there is no companion House bill just yet.

The other major obstacle listed in the report was restitution.

Currently, a rule of Executive Clemency requires payment in full of any court ordered restitution obligation as a pre-condition for eligibility for rights restoration.

Significant numbers of ex-cons owe crime victim restitution. Currently, they are not able to gain their civil rights, until they satisfy that obligation in full.

The Florida Rights Restoriation Coalition consists of members of the NCAAP, League of Women Voters and the ACLU.

No word on reaction from the governor and the rest of the Executive Clemency Board.

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