Sunday, July 22, 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.

Comments

Editorial: NFL calls wise time-out on disciplining protests

The National Football League kept an embarrassing situation from becoming even worse by shelving its new policy clamping down on players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.The league announced late Thursday it would suspend the 2-month old p...
Published: 07/20/18
Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is shoring up his final year in office with the proposed city budget he released Thursday. The plan includes no big-ticket items, opting instead to maintain ongoing investments in parks, roads and other basic public services....
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18

IRS making ‘dark money’ darker

Under a perverse interpretation of federal law, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations supposedly devoted to "social welfare" can spend large amounts of money to influence elections without publicly disclosing the identities of their donors. But instead ...
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

The CrossBay Ferry appears headed for another round of rides across Tampa Bay, with local governments pledging one more year of financial support. But as more taxpayer money is steered into this project, it’s important to recognize what purpose the f...
Published: 07/18/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott says he is considering requests to order an independent investigation of how Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office screens applications for concealed weapon permits. It’s a reasonable request, and the governor h...
Published: 07/18/18
Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

July in Florida. The height of summer tourist season. Rental cars clog the highways and tourists crowd the beaches, motels and all-you-can-eat shrimp joints. Many of our neighbors are off to North Carolina or somewhere cooler. So it’s an awfully inco...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Maggy Hurchalla joked this spring that all she could offer a billionaire who won a $4.4 million judgment against her after she exercised her free speech rights were "two kayaks and an aging Toyota.’’ The billionaire didn’t laugh. This week, Martin Co...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/18/18
Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

In one of the most surreal news conferences of our time, President Donald Trump actually stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday and called the federal investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election "a disaster for our coun...
Published: 07/16/18
Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

The St. Petersburg City Council made the appropriate but difficult decision to reject a contract with renowned artist Janet Echelman for one of her aerial sculptures. It would be wonderful for the city to have one of her signature works, but Spa Beac...
Published: 07/13/18

‘Everybody needed to know what happened’

The brutal murder of Emmett Till, a black Chicago youth, in Mississippi nearly 63 years ago went unpunished, but not forgotten. A decision by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to allow an open casket at Emmett’s Chicago funeral represented an act of def...
Published: 07/13/18