A titanic clash of philosophies
As expected, the Cabinet voted 3-1 Thursday to dismantle Florida's Jim Crow-era system of requiring lengthy waits and hearings for most felons seeking to regain their civil rights after leaving prison.
Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and CFO Alex Sink joined Gov. Charlie Crist in supporting the changes, which were a campaign promise by the Republican governor.
Crist said the change was about "simple justice," "fairness," and "redemption," and quoted Abe Lincoln (" ... with malice toward none, with charity toward all.")
Attorney General Bill McCollum mounted passionate opposition, calling it "a sad day for Florida," "a big mistake," and later describing Crist's actions as "liberal." McCollum said that the changes Crist favored would have allowed John Couey, the killer of Jessica Lunsford, to regain his civil rights.
The four officials, meeting as the Board of Executive Clemency, voted to create a new system under which about 80 percent of convicted felons will now regain their civil rights without a hearing. Those rights include voting, serving on a jury, running for office and holding various state-issued licenses. They do not include being able to carry a gun.
Excluded from the automatic category are criminals who have committed murder, manslaughter, DUI manslaughter, sexual battery, lewd and lascivious crimes, child abuse, treason and terrorism.
Completion of a sentence includes full payment of restitution to crime victims.