Thursday, June 21, 2018
Politics

Rep. Castor: Make it quicker for felons to regain voting rights

TAMPA — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor wants Gov. Rick Scott to make it easier for felons to have their voting rights restored after they have paid their to debt to society.

The Democratic congresswoman spoke Monday about the issue, which promises to be a focal point of the 2014 governor's race that's pitting Scott, a Republican, against former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat.

"Florida is the worst state in the country when it comes to disenfranchisement of voters," Castor said. "I think this is a fundamental civil rights issue of our time."

At a news conference, Castor called on Scott and the Cabinet to address the issue at the next meeting of the state Clemency Board, scheduled for March 19.

Monday's event was held at the corner of Harrison Street and Orange Avenue in downtown Tampa, where a mural depicting local civil rights leaders served as a backdrop. Joining Castor were Michael Pheneger, president of the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Carolyn Hepburn Collins, president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP.

"At the rate that Gov. Scott and the Cabinet are moving, we won't be alive by the time these people have their rights restored," Pheneger said, adding that the issue, in his view, was one of morals. "My reading of the New Testament is that God tells us to forgive people, and this is not forgiveness."

In 2007, Crist as governor made it possible for felons who were convicted of less serious crimes to regain their rights without having to go through a hearing. The process remained more stringent for those convicted of murder and other serious offenses, with a hearing and investigation still required.

Crist's changes enabled 150,000 restorations, though a backlog of 100,000 remained when he left office.

In 2011, state Attorney General Pam Bondi argued that the restoration process was too easy. Scott and the Cabinet scrapped the process, requiring a minimum five-year waiting period, significantly reducing the number of restorations.

Some other states, Castor said, restore rights to felons automatically once their debts to society — prison time and restitution — have been paid.

The issue is national in scope, having been the subject of a speech that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder gave last week at Georgetown University. The Democrat called for a repeal of laws that prohibit felons from voting, likening such laws to policies in the post-Civil War South, which were designed to prevent blacks from participating in society.

An estimated 6 million felons nationwide are eligible to have their voting rights restored, with about a quarter of those in Florida, according to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

Asked whether Monday's news conference addressing the issue was a purely political ploy, given that the Clemency Board is unlikely to reverse its earlier decision, Pheneger pointed back at Scott.

"The whole idea that you can disenfranchise a group of people who might not vote for you is a political act," Pheneger said. "As the only registered Republican standing here, I can tell you it's absolutely political."

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

Comments
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18
Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another facility intended for detaining undocumented children is reportedly in the works for Houston as the number of children separated from their parents at the border continues to swell.Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the...
Published: 06/19/18
Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

Muralist working with huge St. Pete ‘canvas’ to create neighborhood eye-grabber

ST. PETERSBURG — They appear to rise out of nowhere — two enormous, reclaimed-water tanks with an artist’s white clouds scudding across a blue background.A closer view reveals silhouettes of a lone coyote howling at the sky, mangrove islands, oak, cy...
Published: 06/19/18
FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

FBI agent removed from Russia probe for anti-Trump texts says he’s willing to testify before Congress

The FBI agent who was removed from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for sending anti-Trump texts intends to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and any other congressional committee that asks, his attorney sai...
Published: 06/17/18