A coalition of groups in Florida are preparing to try to get a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot in Florida that would restore the voting rights of most individuals with past felony convictions upon completion of their sentence. These groups include the ACLU of Florida, the League of Women Voters, Faith in Florida and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. The proposed constitutional amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. The state’s current policy regarding ex-felons was an issue that Charlie Crist occasionally discussed during the recent gubernatorial campaign. When he took office after being elected in 2007, the then Republican governor was able to persuade a majority of the Florida Cabinet to change the policy to provide ex-offenders convicted of less serious offenses the right to regain their rights without a hearing, while those convicted of crimes such as murder required a more thorough investigation and a hearing. But that was repealed in 2011, when newly elected Attorney General Pam Bondi said that the process was too easy for released felons. Shortly after she made those comments, she and the rest of the Cabinet scrapped the process and set a minimum of a five-year waiting period.
“Individuals have to wait anywhere between 5-7 years, depending on the nature of the crime they commit, to apply to get their rights restored. And that’s after they’ve paid their fines and restitutions, and they have to wait an additional 2-5 years, so you’re talking 7-12 years before they’re able to get their rights restored,” says Joyce Hamilton Henry, director of advocacy for the ACLU of Florida. “We are tired of that, because every four years we have to wait for these four individuals (in the Florida Cabinet) to make a decision” regarding the fate of ex-felons. She made those comments while addressing the Hillsborough County Executive Democratic Committee on Monday night.
On Tuesday, SaintPetersBlog reached out to Deirdre Macnab, president of the Florida League of Women Voters, for comment. Macnab would not confirm that the League has committed to putting the measure on the ballot, but did say that the LWV for the last few years has been “deeply concerned and active on this issue,” adding that research shows significantly lower recidivism rates for people whose rights have been restored. She said a statement on the issue from the League “will be forthcoming.”