Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: Personal bias taints Florida's clemency system

SCOTT KEELER   |   Times Amendment 4 should get special focus in November. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes the voting rights of anyone convicted of a felony.
SCOTT KEELER | Times Amendment 4 should get special focus in November. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes the voting rights of anyone convicted of a felony.
Published Jul. 13, 2018

A recent exchange between the governor and Cabinet and a felon seeking to have his civil rights restored underscores the arbitrary unfairness of Florida's clemency system. A long waiting period, a ridiculous backlog of cases and elected officials who peruse limited details of people's pasts to determine their futures add up to an unconstitutional quagmire. The remedy is on November's ballot: Amendment 4, which would finally provide uniformity and clarity for ex-offenders who are trying to rebuild their lives.

Erwin Jones appeared in June before the Clemency Board, which is made up of Gov. Rick Scott and three Cabinet members: Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Jones is one of thousands of felons in Florida who have completed their sentences and probation, paid any restitution they owe and want their civil rights restored. Florida is one of only three states that, through its Constitution, permanently revokes the right to vote, serve on a jury and hold public office from anyone with a felony conviction. They must make a personal plea to the Clemency Board to get those rights back, and the governor must be on the prevailing side.

Jones' hearing amounted to a cross-examination. Patronis wanted to know how many children Jones has and by how many different mothers, while seeking to find out if he was current in his child support payments. Scott asked for a retelling of Jones' domestic violence crimes, dating to 2002. That led into a discussion with Bondi about the nature of domestic violence, and how many incidents don't result in an arrest because victims recant their stories and return to their abusers. How is any of that relevant to whether Jones should be allowed to vote again?

During the same meeting, Patronis asked another felon seeking permission to own a gun so he could go hunting with his wife whether he went to church. How is that relevant?

The issue of rights restoration should not be a re-litigation of a person's crimes or reflect the personal biases of the elected officials regarding the make-up of particular families — or their religious beliefs. The court system is where crimes are prosecuted and the corrections system is where they are punished. Florida, though, makes a felony a permanent barrier to full-fledged citizenship — and it does so at great public expense through a higher recidivism rate and increased burden on the courts. Amendment 4, which needs 60 percent voter approval to pass in November, would end that arbitrary scheme and automatically restore voting rights to felons who have completed all the terms of their sentence. Those convicted of murder and felony sexual offenses are excluded and would still have to go through the clemency process.

There are about 1.2 million felons in Florida who would be given a clean slate with the passage of Amendment 4. The current system does not serve their interests — nor any broader public interest — because of its inefficiency and fundamental unfairness. Automatic restoration of the right to vote would bring Florida in line with the rest of the country and end the perpetual punishment of our fellow citizens who have served their time and paid their debts.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Here’s what readers are saying in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
  2.  [Chip Bok -- Creators.com]
  3. Teachers and supporters march during the Florida Education Association's "Take on Tallahassee" rally at the Old Capitol in Tallahassee. [PHIL SEARS  |  AP]
    Here’s what readers are saying in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  4. Florida's unemployment rate hit a record low in December. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) [LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP]
    Nearly every major job sector posted gains from a year earlier.
  5. The entrance to Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa. [Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center]
    The secret jobs and payments provided by China to researchers at the University of Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center are greater than initially reported. A House committee should keep investigating.
  6. The Florida Aquarium celebrates its 25th year. And it has much to show for it.
    A magnet in Tampa Bay for tourism, conservation and regional growth.
  7. Mac Stipanovich
    Whether it’s regulating the collection of voter signatures on the front end or passing new laws on the back end, they seek to silence the voices of the governed.
  8. St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway and U.S. Attorney, Middle District of Florida, Maria Chapa Lopez, announced the Department of Justice awarded a $741,556 grant to the St. Petersburg Police Department for three years to create a regional Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force at the department. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    The Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Force is a unique opportunity to bridge the gap of local law enforcement and reduce human trafficking.
  9. A rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation this week would allow airlines to crack down on personal pets that are carried aboard as so-called service animals. [MARK SCHIEFELBEIN  |  AP]
    Trained dogs are fine. Pigs and turkeys—uh, no.
  10.  [Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal]
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement