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Convicted lawmaker files bill for felons' vote

State Sen. Gary Siplin lost his right to vote in elections because he's a convicted felon. But he can still vote in the Florida Legislature and he is trying to make sure he and other felons automatically get their rights back after they finish their sentence.

Siplin, D-Orlando, introduced a bill last week that would change the state's long-standing constitutional ban on felon voting. Now, the state's clemency board has to hear each case to decide whether to restore the rights, a process that can take months or years.

"It probably wasn't the smartest bill for Gary to file," said Senate Minority Leader Steven Geller, D-Cooper City.

"He would be well served to leave it to Sen. (Mandy) Dawson, who has been the champion of that legislation," said Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

Dawson, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, filed a similar bill (SB 202) a week before Siplin, the first Florida legislator to remain in office after a felony conviction .

"Before all this happened, he's always been very supportive with this issue," Dawson said Tuesday, shortly after speaking by phone with Siplin. "He did indicate he'd be willing to withdraw it and work with us."

Messages left for the 52-year-old attorney at his district office in Orlando and at his Capitol office were not returned.

Siplin was convicted in August on felony grand theft charges for having employees work on his 2004 re-election campaign on state time. He was sentenced last month to three years' probation and 300 hours of community service, but that was later postponed pending an appeal.

Siplin's attorney, Bruce Rogow, said Tuesday that briefs are due in the case in late January.