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ACLU, NAACP meet with Bondi on civil rights issues

Leaders of the ACLU and NAACP met with Attorney General Pam Bondi Tuesday to lodge their concerns over a Bondi proposal to impose lengthy waiting periods for ex-offenders seeking to regain their civil rights.

Bondi opposes the current streamlined civil rights restoration process instituted four years ago by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet. She says all petitions for clemency should come before the governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Executive Clemency, following a wait period of three to five years. Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet are expected to approve Bondi's changes March 8.

ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon called it a "crisis" that hundreds of thousands of discharged ex-felons in Florida still can't vote, serve on a jury or hold any of dozens of professional licenses. He called it an "ugly" legacy of a post-Civil War constitutional convention that sought to block freed slaves from voting. Simon said giving ex-cons their rights back will increase their chances of becoming productive citizens and reducing the recidivism rate in state prisons.

"This is a huge problem for the state of Florida," Simon told reporters afterward. "We're only going to increase the problem by delaying the period of time for the restoration of civil rights."

Joining Simon at the meeting with Bondi was Dale Landry, leader of the NAACP Tallahassee branch.  The two men praised Bondi for meeting with them and for her support for "de-coupling" the civil rights restoration process from an ex-felon's application for job licenses. 

-- Steve Bousquet

Comments

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Terry

Why are very little people talking about this? This is an election year. Aren’t people concerned that there are nearly one million tax paying citizens in the state of Florida that are being denied the opportunity to vote.

The Civil Rights of ex-felons must be earned.

Governor Scott and Pam Bondi are not saying that ex-felons should not have a second chance but should only have longer waiting periods and that they need to earn their civil rights back. What is the criteria for earning these rights back? It must be very high and out of reach for them because most are not winning their rights back. Do you know how many tax paying citizens there are who have completed due process and are still waiting to have their cases reviewed? There are approximately a million in Florida. Do you know how many ex-felons had their rights restored by the Florida’s Executive Board of Clemency last year? There were only 78. This is not even scratching the surface in overcoming this problem. There is approximately a two year backlog on reviewing these cases and they are falling further and further behind each year. I do not think their true agenda is to give these men and women a second chance in rejoining society as full citizens. One strike and you are out it appears in Florida. The other 47 states in this country restore civil rights to their citizens after due process has been completed. Gov. Scott and Pam Bondi seem to think differently.
Between 35,000 to 38,000 inmates are admitted to Florida prisons each year by the most current estimates and nearly the same number are released each year. With only 78 former felons having their civil rights restored this past year, you do the math. At this rate we will have an exponential growing number of these men and women living, working, and paying their taxes as second class citizens. We have a new class of people emerging in our nation that are a subclass, in all intense and purposes, in comparison with our upper, middle and poor classes. Our current system of justice in Florida has created this. Our subclass, which is now approximately a million and growing, cannot vote, hold higher paying jobs of their choice, hold many occupational licenses or live in many common areas of their choosing. These choices have been taken away and withheld from them long after due process has been served. Their families suffer right along side of them. According to our Florida politicians this is not discrimination. If you did not know better you would think that I was talking about a different country. Can these things actually be happening in America? This is one of the reasons we lead the world in the number of its citizens that are incarcerated. China, with four times our population, does not even come close to the U.S. These numbers are increasing at an alarming rate and until people start to stand up and take notice and do something about it this will continue to escalate. A historian and moralist Lord Acton once said that “Absolute Power corrupts absolutely”. Earl Chatham, former Prime Minister of England from 1766 to 1786, went on to say, “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it”. You may ask yourself, how can someone be punished beyond that which a judge and often times a jury has passed down in a sentence that has a beginning and an end? The answer is, because they can. If we are suppose to have separation of powers among our branches of government in this country of our Executive, Legislative and our Judicial branches then what is Governor Scott doing crossing over into the judicial arena and adding on to due process after it has been handed down by a court of law, served and completed by an individual? In an Autocracy there are no such divisions. Is this the direction our country is headed? Can’t anyone else see this? If Florida is to move forward in its position on restoring civil rights to those who have paid the price by completing due process it must remove obstructionist politicians by voting them out of office such as Governor Rick Scott along with Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam from office. Their obstructionist politics runs counter to what most of our nation believes in and that is to ensure every American has the opportunity to live free from oppression as a full citizen of this great nation with the civil rights guaranteed there in. Every human being deserves a second chance in life. This is what our country stands for. Our forefathers came to this country to escape persecution and to have that second chance. We are known as the land of the free by other countries. The legacy of these politicians will be written in history for all to see and judge someday. Truth always rises to the forefront with the passing of time. Abraham Lincoln said it best. He has left a standing legacy that still rings true today. He said, “I have always found that mercy bares richer fruit than strict justice”. He helped to heal a wounded nation that was torn apart by civil war. Our country’s freedoms were not free but came at a great price and we continue to pay that price to live free still today. If President Lincoln had not extended a hand of mercy to the men and women that had turned against this country we might still be living as a divided nation. Some have learned from this great lesson and some have not. Do not let petty politics divide this country again. Do not burn the bridge of forgiveness that someday you yourself may have to cross. We are all in this race together, the human race. The poet Alexander Pope put this into perspective by writing, “To err is human; to forgive, is divine. Now the torch is passed to this generation. What will you do with it?
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Liberty27

Does due process really exist in America?

What is your definition of due process of the law? Who should pass sentence on an individual? Should the judge have the last say? Should the Executive Board of Clemency of that state, made up of unelected officials, have the final word? Should the Governor dictate what due process is from his executive office? Wikipedia's definition says “Due process balances the power of law of the land and protects individual persons from it. When a government harms a person without following the exact course of the law, this constitutes a due-process violation, which offends against the rule of law. It also means that we have a constitutional guarantee that all legal proceedings will be fair and that one will be given notice of the proceedings and an opportunity to be heard before the government acts to take away one's life, liberty, or property. Also, a constitutional guarantee that a law shall not be unreasonable, Arbitrary, or capricious.” What would constitute as unreasonable? Would a life long disenfranchisement of your rights as an American citizen be considered unreasonable? Consider this, when an individual is sentenced to fifteen years in prison and they complete this sentence, complete their probation and also pay back all restitution and court costs, has in your opinion due process been completed? Has that person paid his debt to society? You would think so, right? Let’s say they just do one year in prison and complete their due process. Should they have to forfeit their civil rights and liberties for the rest of their lives? Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi seem to think so. They have come along after completion of these sentences and have said; now they must earn their rights back. Pam Bondi said, “I fundamentally and philosophically oppose the concept of the automatic restoration of civil rights. I believe that every convicted felon must actively apply for the restoration of his or her civil rights and that there should be a mandatory waiting period before applying. The restoration of civil rights for any felon must be earned, it is not an entitlement." What does this say about our constitutional guarantee that the law shall not be unreasonable? What are the precise criteria of a felon earning these rights back? Nobody seems to know because only 78 had their civil rights restored last year in Florida out of a pool of over 900,000 disenfranchised ex-felons. Do you feel that justice has been served? Over all we have approximately 5.5 million ex-felons striving to get their civil rights restored in this country and the number keeps growing every year. Florida is home to nearly one fifth of them. These men and women have been sentenced to a life long struggle as second class citizens without a clear recourse to have these rights restored. Can this be happening in America?
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