Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tiger Bay panel: End permanent revocation of voting rights for convicted felons

Rep. Sean Shaw, D- Tampa, on the floor of the Florida House.[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times

Rep. Sean Shaw, D- Tampa, on the floor of the Florida House.[SCOTT KEELER | Times

TAMPA – A panel of elected officials and advocates including Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren argued in a forum Friday that Florida should end its practice of permanently revoking the voting rights of people convicted of felonies.

But getting that done, they said, will take a constitutional amendment given the reluctance of the state Cabinet and Legislature to act on the issue.

"It's political," said state Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa. "We need to recognize why the disenfranchisement continues — it's overtly political and that's unfortunate."

Those on the panel advocated an amendment that's the subject of a petition drive to get it on the 2018 ballot. It would automatically restore voting rights to all felons who have completed all terms of their sentences, including active sentences, parole or probation, except those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses.

Restoration of civil rights — including the right to run for office, own a gun and vote — is now available under the state Constitution only through executive clemency by the governor and Florida Cabinet, a difficult and expensive process that has resulted in only a trickle of individuals having their rights restored.

Some 1.6 million Floridians are currently disenfranchised, said Desmond Meade, head of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

Meade himself is one.

Although he is a graduate of the Florida International University law school, he said he's unable even to take the state bar exam because of felony convictions decades ago when he was a homeless drug addict.

Meade said it angers him when he meets disenfranchised veterans, citing the example of a 70-year-old World War II veteran who couldn't vote for 30 years after he came home from the war and wrote a bad check.

"There are thousands of veterans who come home and maybe they have PTSD or addiction problems, or they get in a bar fight," he said.

Democrats have commonly accused Republicans of opposing rights restoration because it would affect large numbers of black voters, likely to be loyal Democrats.

But Meade and others on the panel denied it was either a partisan or a black issue. Two-thirds of the Florida disenfranchised, Meade said, aren't black.

Warren said the criminal justice system, including the clemency process, needs reform and should consider "the long-term consequences of what we do every day in the system … the long-term impact of conviction and incarceration on an individual, a family, the community. … It comes back to fundamental fairness."

He said the greatest single obstacle for an individual seeking clemency is money — the cost of legal and court fees.

The panel at the Tiger Bay Club didn't include any opponents of the rights restoration measure.

The club invited several opponents including local elected officials, but none agreed to appear, said club President Vic DiMaio, who is a Democrat, and board member April Schiff, a Republican who made calls to invite individuals on the other side.

Schiff said she thought that was "because of the subject matter."

Tiger Bay clubs seek to be bipartisan, including requiring an equal mix of Democrats and Republicans on their governing boards and rotating the presidency between the parties. But the Tampa club has developed a reputation among local Republicans as leaning Democratic in its membership.

State Sen. Dana Young, who didn't attend the meeting Friday, said she hasn't read the amendment but is "skeptical that a wholesale granting of rights to convicted felons is good public policy."

To get on the ballot, supporters must gather 766,200 valid signatures of registered voters by Feb. 1. They currently have 63,148, according to the state Division of Elections web site.

The American Civil Liberties Union has pledged $5 million help pass the measure, which could include paying signature gatherers — the only realistic way the requirement could be met, said panelist Reggie Garcia, a lawyer who specializes in clemency cases.

Contact William March at

Tiger Bay panel: End permanent revocation of voting rights for convicted felons 08/18/17 [Last modified: Friday, August 18, 2017 4:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida reverses decision to shield information from nursing home inspection reports


    TALLAHASSEE — Florida regulators decided Friday they will abandon the use of software that allowed them to heavily redact key words from nursing home inspection reports posted online, choosing instead to link to the more complete reports available on a federal site.

    Officials for the state Agency for Health Care Administration said Friday they will no longer use software that allowed them to heavily redact key words from nursing home inspection reports posted online. The agency has been under increased scrutiny since Sept. 13, when eight residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, pictured here, died after power was lost to an air-conditioning system during Hurricane Irma. Two more residents died this week. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]
  2. Trump's travel ban to be replaced by restrictions tailored to certain countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries is set to be replaced as soon as this weekend with more targeted restrictions on visits to the United States that would vary by country, officials familiar with the plans told the New York Times on Friday.

  3. Maria: Clearwater Coast Guard plane aids rescue near Puerto Rico


    Eight minutes. That's how long it took the Petty Officer 3rd Class Darryn Manley of the Coast Guard said it took him to spot the boat that capsized off a Puerto Rican island on Thursday.

  4. Mom of girl who died looking for candy seeks to keep husband away

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Eight days after her 4-year-old daughter died in the care of paternal grandparents, pregnant Lizette Hernandez sat in a Hillsborough County courthouse Friday, attempting to seek full-time custody of her 19-month-old son.

    Lizette Hernandez, 22, above, completes paperwork Friday for a motion for protection from domestic violence against her husband, Shane Zoller. Their daughter, Yanelly, 4, left, died in a gun accident at the home of Zoller’s parents.
  5. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus


    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.