Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Politics

Tampa lawyer leads campaign opposing voting rights for felons

TALLAHASSEE — A Tampa lawyer is launching a campaign to oppose a 2018 statewide ballot measure that would restore the right to vote for more than a million convicted felons in Florida, except those convicted of murder and felony sex crimes.

Attorney Richard Harrison has formed a nonprofit group, Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy, and created a website to reach voters.

Harrison is taking on the American Civil Liberties Union and others, including the Clearwater-based group Floridians for a Fair Democracy, who are trying to change the state's requirement that convicted felons wait at least five years after leaving prison before they can seek restoration of their civil rights, including the right to vote.

Harrison opposes the amendment's language, which he says is too broad in restoring voting rights of felons except those who have committed murder or sex offenses.

"The most significant concern is the fact that it treats all felony convictions the same, other than the excluded categories," Harrison said. "It's a one-size-fits-all approach, which we believe is not good policy."

Florida is one of three states that permanently strips the civil rights of convicted felons, even after they have completed all terms of their sentences. On their own time and at their own expense, felons must petition the governor and Cabinet to regain the right to vote, own a firearm, run for office or serve on a jury. The process is a vestige of the Jim Crow era that often begins decades after felons leave prison and typically takes years to complete.

Gov. Rick Scott and the three Republican Cabinet members meet four times a year as the Board of Executive Clemency to consider cases, but more than 20,000 people are on a waiting list. Former Gov. Charlie Crist streamlined the process after he took office in 2007 to allow many felons to regain the right to vote without formal hearings. Scott and the Cabinet changed the rules in 2011 to require a five-year waiting period.

Harrison said the current system is far from perfect. But he said that Floridians who don't like the status quo should "elect new people" to the governor's office and Cabinet. He said it's wrong to change the Constitution in a way that treats non-violent felons and many violent felons the same, equating a petty thief who steals lobster traps with a robber who shoots a convenience store clerk.

Harrison, who filed his group as a tax-exempt nonprofit with the state last month, declined to say how many people support his cause.

"It is more than just me, but I'm not going to discuss our membership," said Harrison, 56, a Stetson University College of Law graduate who described himself as a conservative Republican.

The proposed amendment states: "Any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation. No person convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense shall be qualified to vote until restoration of civil rights."

Supporters cleared an important hurdle in April when the Florida Supreme Court approved the ballot initiative's wording. But they still must collect signatures from 766,200 registered voters in at least 14 of the state's 27 congressional districts by Feb. 1 for the amendment to reach voters on the November 2018 general election ballot.

The ACLU has committed at least $5 million to the effort, and the group already has donated $500,000, according to campaign finance reports on file with the state.

Desmond Meade, who is leading the petition drive for the measure, said he wasn't impressed by Harrison's challenge.

"I don't even know who this guy is," said Meade. "That's just one person. There are thousands of people in Florida who do believe in second chances, and they are out there in the streets. That's where the focus should be."

At a Florida Democratic Party LGBTQ conference in Tallahassee last weekend, attorney Barry Munroe urged everyone in the room to get at least 15 voters to sign petitions. He said faith-based groups, prison ministries and voter advocacy groups are all working to change the Constitution, and that it's only a matter of time before Florida modernizes its civil rights process.

"If we don't get it this time, we'll get it next time," Munroe said, referring to the 2020 election cycle.

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] Follow @stevebousquet.

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...
Updated: 6 hours ago
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...
Updated: 7 hours ago
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
Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

Erosion of immigrant protections began with Trump inaugural

The Trump administration’s move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has grabbed attention around the world, drawn scorn from human-rights organizations and overtaken the immigration debate in Congress.It’s also...
Published: 06/17/18