State Rep. Cord Byrd filed a bill Wednesday that allows those who’ve served prison and probation sentences for felonies to seek to have their voting and gun rights restored by petitioning judges. Currently, those convicted of felonies have those civil rights revoked unless the governor offers clemency. This bill would allow people to file petitions in court that argue they deserve to have their rights restored; and it allows state attorney’s offices to oppose the petitions. Judges must determine if the people asking for their rights back have led law-abiding lives since release and if they’re likely to continue to obey the law, if they’re not likely to be a danger to others and if giving back the rights is not contrary to the public’s interest. Judges could not restore individual rights, like voting rights, but would be required to restore all rights, including the right to own and carry firearms.
Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, runs a law firm that is focused on gun rights, and he said he handles petitions for clemency and knows how backlogged that system currently is. The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which is considering constitutional amendments that would automatically restore voting rights, has said that the current clemency process has a backlog of more than 20,000 cases.
Byrd said that his bill is about trusting judges to decide if people are ready to have their rights back. “When their sentence is over and they’ve paid their debt to society, I think they should be afforded the right to have someone consider whether they should have their rights restored. … This is not to give violent felons the opportunity to get a gun. That’s not going to happen. I can’t imagine a judge granting them their rights. This is for that person who has made a mistake once in their life.”