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Scott, Cabinet OK new clemency restrictions

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet approved a new policy on clemency Wednesday that will require many ex-felons to wait five years before they can seek restoration of their civil rights. The new policy erases the streamlining of the Jim Crow-era clemency process, adopted four years ago by former Gov. Charlie Crist and a different Cabinet.

The vote was 4-0 as Scott was joined by Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. All four officials are Republicans.

Scott said the changes would "protect public safety and create incentives to avoid criminal activity." He said people convicted of felonies should be required to submit an application to regain the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for public office or hold one of dozens of professional licenses.

The policy allows non-violent offenders to regain their rights without a hearing after being crime-free for five years after being released from prison. For certain classes of violent offenders that require clemency hearings, the waiting period is seven years.

A delegation of Florida sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors spoke in favor of the changes. The new policy, in a 24-page rule change, was originally spearheaded by Bondi, a former Hillsborough County prosecutor. "I believe that there should be a waiting period, and I believe someone should have to ask for their rights to be restored," Bondi said.

"The application process ensures accountability," said Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger, a supporter of the new policy.

Critics said the change would worsen Florida's high rate of recidivism because ex-offenders will now face new barriers in trying to become productive citizens. "Once a person has paid their debt they should be quickly and fully integrated back into the community," said Danielle Prendergast of the ACLU of Florida. The NAACP, League of Women Voters and Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho also spoke against the new policy.

State Sens. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, spoke in opposition, as did Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. Siplin criticized the Cabinet for tight restrictions on public testimony. Before speedily adopting the new policy, the board limited testimony to 30 minutes, with no speaker permitted more than two minutes of speaking time.

"Why the rush to go back to where we started from?" Joyner asked.

-- Steve Bousquet

Comments

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Frank Kopczynski

For a governor who stated he supports programs for inmates while in prison this new policy is illogical. this is like giving your fiance a ring but telling you might marry her in 5 or 7 years.

For the sheriffs & prosecutors who support this draconian policy I have to ask why are you so fearful of ex-offenders regaining some form or normalcy in their lives? Are you actually hoping that they re-offend? Is business that slow?

Terry

Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi have returned the state of Florida to the pre Civil War policies of banning voting rights of ex-felons long after completing their contract of due process. Justice has been served by the courts but the Executive Branch continues to cross over the line by adding additional punishment on to an already completed sentence. Helping to reestablish hundreds of thousand these of men and women back into society is not a priority with this current administration.

“The Civil Rights of any felons must be earned, it is not an entitlement.” Pam Bondi has said.

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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