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Advocates urge the state to make it easier for felons to have voting rights restored

TAMPA — As Gov. Charlie Crist meets today with members of his Cabinet to consider requests from felons who want their civil rights restored, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition has events planned throughout the state to call attention to what it says are problems with the process.

A report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, a member of the coalition, calls for Crist and the Cabinet, sitting today as the Board of Executive Clemency, to change the rules.

Among other things, the coalition wants the state to stop requiring felons to pay restitution before winning back the right to vote.

"In a lot of states people can vote even while incarcerated or on supervision," said Muslima Lewis, author of the report.

The report also calls for removing rights restoration as a requirement for getting a state-issued occupational license or job that requires state certification.

That will make it easier for people to get jobs and pay their restitution, which Lewis said amounts to a poll tax.

Crist issued an executive order in 2007 allowing civil rights restoration, including voting rights, for some nonviolent felons without having to plead their cases to the Executive Clemency Board.

"I am committed to ensuring that those who pay their debt to society have the opportunity to regain their right to choose our nation's leaders," Crist said in a statement released late Wednesday touting the changes.

More than 138,000 people have had their rights restored in the past two years, compared to about 83,000 in the 12 years prior to that. But the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition says hundreds of thousands of people are waiting, and the process takes too long.

Tiawan Daniels, 28, who lives in Broward County, said it took years of paperwork, phone calls and e-mails before he had his rights restored in October.

"It's too much of a bureaucratic process that you have to go through," said Daniels, who was incarcerated briefly on a cocaine distribution charge when he was 16. "The process has been more discouraging instead of encouraging."

Changing the rules of clemency requires support of the governor and two other members of the Executive Clemency Board, which is composed of Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson and Attorney General Bill McCollum.

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Local members of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition — which includes the NAACP, League of Women Voters and the ACLU — will host a showing of the BET special Locked Out: Ex-Cons & the Vote at 7 p.m. today at the University Area Community Center, 14013 N 22nd St., Tampa. A panel discussion will follow the movie. Lawyers will also be on hand to provide information on civil rights restoration of felons.

Advocates urge the state to make it easier for felons to have voting rights restored 03/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 12:00am]
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