Facing a highly critical group of black legislators, Gov. Rick Scott largely defended his record Tuesday but distanced himself from a controversial election law that led to fewer early-voting days and long lines. Scott agreed with black lawmakers that the 2011 election law contributed to the chaos at the polls in November, including long lines all over the state and up to seven-hour waits in Miami-Dade. But Scott, who is seeking re-election in 2014, said it was largely a decision of the Legislature. “It was not my bill,” Scott said. “We’ve got to make changes, I agree. … The Legislature passed it. I didn’t have anything to do with passing it.” Scott signed the bill into law in 2011. His administration spent more than $500,000 in legal fees in a largely successful defense of the law, though a federal judge struck down new restrictions on groups that register voters.
The governor’s hourlong meeting with the Legislative Black Caucus was contentious. He sat at times with his arms tightly crossed, sipping from a bottle of sparkling water, and took notes on a yellow pad as his Democratic critics, seated around a large square table, dissected his record on a range of issues.
On a series of issues, Scott was unmoving. Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, the House minority leader, could not persuade Scott to ease restrictions on ex-felons, who must wait at least five years after leaving prison before they can seek restoration of their civil rights. Scott said the law is partly why Florida’s crime rate is at a 41-year low.
“Once you’re out as a felon, you should spend time making sure you’re doing the right thing before you get those rights back,” Scott said.
Pressed to reconsider his position, Scott said: “Okay. I’d be glad to.” Two years ago, Scott and his fellow Republicans on the Cabinet reversed the policy under former Gov. Charlie Crist that allowed many ex-felons to regain their civil rights without a hearing.