Friday, April 27, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felons’ voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a legal brief filed this week after a judge slapped down Florida’s anachronistic system as unconstitutional. It is all the evidence Floridians need to conclude that partisan politicians cannot be trusted with unilaterally deciding who gets back the sacred right to vote.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued a landmark order earlier this month in the long-simmering feud over restoration of felons’ rights in Florida. Under the current system, all felons must wait at least five years after completing their sentences, serving probation and paying restitution before they can apply for the right to vote and other civil rights such as serving on a jury. Scott and the three-member Cabinet, sitting as the clemency board, consider petitions just four times a year, usually fewer than 100 each time. That has created yearslong delays even after the mandatory waiting period and a backlog of thousands of cases. The "scheme," as Walker called it, is impractical and dysfunctional. Worse, it hinges on Scott’s whims.

The governor and Cabinet vote on each case, but the governor has to be in the majority. Walker noted that Scott once remarked at a hearing, "We can do whatever we want." Another time, he couldn’t make up his mind in the case of a petitioner who had been convicted of manslaughter and DUI, noting, "That’s how my uncle died." That kind of capriciousness has deprived countless Floridians who have paid their debt the opportunity to fully reintegrate. Walker recognized that and ordered the state and Fair Elections Legal Network, the voting rights group that filed the suit, to submit briefs on how to fix Florida’s system.

Yet the state did not make a concrete proposal. Its perverse response asserts that it would be "inappropriate" for the court to order the governor and Cabinet to create a new system — harkening, it seems, to Scott’s "we can do whatever we want" proclamation. Among the state’s options, according to the brief: uniformly refusing to restore any felon’s right to vote. That’s an astoundingly tone-deaf argument that lays bare Scott’s contempt for giving felons a viable path to become contributing members of society. Scott already has signaled that an appeal of the judge’s order is likely, which would further add insult to the people who have stood in line to have their cases heard.

A larger movement may ultimately overtake the legal maneuvering by the governor and Cabinet. Amendment 4 on the November ballot would change the state Constitution to require that the voting rights for all felons except those convicted of murder and sex crimes be automatically restored when their sentences are complete. The Legislature also could put its own amendment on the ballot, but it presumably would be more restrictive. Like Scott, Republican legislative leaders have argued that felons should endure a waiting period to prove they are successfully reintegrating into society and staying out of trouble. But that’s a backward argument: Voting and serving on a jury are fundamental to citizenship and part of the means by which people reintegrate.

The governor and Cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — are right that, as the federal judge pointed out, felons can be legally banned from voting for up to a lifetime. But that draconian approach is out of touch in a nation that believes in redemption and second chances, and they cannot be trusted to devise a fair system for restoring voting rights after they defended such an unfair one for years. Thankfully, that responsibility will soon be in the hands of the courts and the voters.

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Editorial: It’s up to Florida’s voters to restore felons’ civil rights now

The disappointing ruling Wednesday by a federal appeals court should erase any doubt that the decision on restoring voting rights for felons rests solely on the conscience of Florida voters. A tortured ruling by the minimum majority of a three-judge ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Published: 04/25/18
Updated: 04/26/18

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Published: 04/25/18
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18