Friday, June 22, 2018
Opinion

States' rights don't supersede civil rights

Imagine this:

You lived in Minnesota your entire life. Over the years, you managed to acquire a few traffic tickets. Nothing major, just a few speeding tickets and one moving violation. Your offenses were adjudicated by a judge, you paid the assessed fines, and that was more or less the end of it. Of course, you did have a bump in your auto insurance premiums, which, over time, cost you more than the fine levied by the judge. Insurance companies never miss an opportunity to boost the bottom line at customer expense.

After retiring, you couldn't endure another one of those dreadful Minnesota winters. The Sunshine State beckoned. It was all sunshine and light until you applied for your Florida driver's license.

After filling out the required forms, the attending clerk asked "Did you ever receive a traffic ticket when you lived in Minnesota?" Surprised you replied, "Why, yes. I don't know. Over 45 years maybe I had two or three. Why?"

Here came the shocking news: "In Florida, we assess our own penalty for any tickets you may have received before moving here. According to my chart, you will need to pay Florida an additional $200 in order to get your Florida driver's license."

You protest, "How absurd is this? These offenses did not occur in Florida. These offenses were adjudicated in Minnesota. I satisfied all the requirements levied by the court. In my mind the matter is settled and Florida has no business violating the statutes and courts of Minnesota in this matter."

The clerk replies, "Well, here in Florida, we have our own laws. We believe in states' rights. We don't care what they do in Minnesota. We play by Florida's rules. Pay the $200 or no license."

Of course, this doesn't happen. Or does it?

Suppose you are registering to vote. Or trying to register. The clerk will ask you to verify that you have never been convicted of a felony anywhere at any time. Florida's laws ignore the adjudication of felony offenses by other states. Florida refuses to recognize the right of any state to restore voting rights to persons who have committed a felony and have satisfied all the judgments against them.

Florida systematically denies rights that most U.S. citizens simply take for granted.

In the Pledge of Allegiance we say, "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." But Florida thumbs its nose at the courts in other states and deprives thousands of their right to vote. Not only is this unconscionable, to a large extent it defeats one goal of our criminal justice system.

Certainly criminal law exists to punish offenders and hopefully provide a deterrent to re-offending. However, the primary purpose of criminal law is to rehabilitate offenders and restore them to full and complete life within society. A law which provides a life-long denial of civil rights for offenses, even offenses committed by foolish and misguided youth, is obscene.

It is long past time for Florida to restore ex-offenders their full civil rights. When Florida ignores the legal actions of other states, it is an un-American denial of our national union.

Florida is simply misguided, flawed and immoral. When offenders have completed their sentence and paid restitution, their civil rights must be restored automatically.

The Legislature needs to redress this outrage during the 2013 session.

C.D. Chamberlain lives in Spring Hill.

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