Florida Restores Civil Rights to Some Felons

04/05/07 Seán Kinane
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Florida is one of only five states, all in the south, that does not automatically restore the rights of ex-felons once they have completed their sentences. This morning in Tallahassee the Florida Cabinet, which also acts as the state's Executive Clemency Board, held a special meeting to correct this Jim-Crow-era rule.  As WMNF’s Seán Kinane  reports, the cabinet voted 3 to 1 to make it easier to restore civil rights, including the right to vote, to some ex-felons.

"It is not about conservative versus liberal. Not about Rep vs Dem, it's  About right vs. Wrong. And to me it is very crystal clear. So with that I would call for the vote on this proposal. All in favor please say Aye. Aye. Opposed? No. And so it passes. Thank you.

 That was Governor Charlie Crist.

 He and two other cabinet members [Chief Financial officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, and Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson, a Republican] voted for the measure making it easier to restore civil rights to many ex-felons.

 THIS MEANS that ex-felons will once again be able to vote, to serve on juries, and to apply for occupational licenses, but it does not apply to restoring an ex-felon's right to bear firearms.

 The lone vote against the measure was by Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum, who requested a roll call vote.  McCollum has been a vocal critic of this measure, claiming that it is "reckless and irresponsible" because almost half of ex-felons go on to commit other crimes.

"The five-year wait that is in current rules is very, very important because of a high rate of recidivism in our state today. And I think it is reckless and irresponsible for us to pass this today in its current posture.”  


Commissioner Charles Bronson suggested an amendment that would require that an ex-felon go five years without an arrest or conviction before applying for a restoration of rights after finishing a second felony sentence.

 The amendment was included once Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink successfully added language that insured that people in that situation would be able to appeal.

 Before the vote, Governor Crist said that restoring civil rights is the morally correct thing to do and it would respect the rulings of judges and juries. He also reminded the cabinet that he earned the nickname “Chain-Gang Charlie” because he is tough on criminals. 

[“If you believe that when somebody has committed a crime and that individual is sentenced by a judge & jury to a time to serve and/or a probation thereafter.] “And when they have completed that sentence, that punishment, they have in fact paid their debt to society. Then don’t we owe them the second chance? I believe that we do.  I believe that we sitting here don’t have the moral right to add 5 years to that sentence given by a judge, to add five weeks to that sentence or to add five minute to it. A judge and jury have made a determination about what the appropriate punishment is. I believe in appropriate punishment. I’m Chain-Gang Charlie. [laughter]”

 But State Senator Arthenia Joyner has concerns that ex-felons might be difficult to contact to let them know they can now apply to have their rights restored. She hopes that in the future, civil rights will be automatically restored.

“We’re not there yet. True automatic restoration, which is basically paper-free. And upon completing your sentence, it’s done. No, we haven’t gotten there yet. But at least we’ve got a governor who says ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ And I want to move the process toward automatic restoration.” 

Aziza Naa-Kaa Botchway, who is a staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida’s Racial Justice Program, says that financial restitution must be paid to victims before civil rights are restored. This may be nearly impossible for someone who is just getting out of prison.

 “We are in favor of restitution being paid. We’re just saying make it easier; allow people have access to jobs. Because studies have shown that when people are able to gain employment, then they’re less likely to commit crime again and they’re more able to pay their restitution.” 

For WMNF News, I'm Sean Kinane



Florida Cabinet


Announcement of special meeting



Florida Parole Commission


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