Florida governor ends 5-year waiting period for former felons to vote

“Those who have had their voting rights restored under Amendment 4, it makes sense to also restore the other civil rights.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) wants to do away with the minimum five-year wait before felons become eligible to have their civil rights restored, including the right to vote. 

On Wednesday, DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved the changes to the state’s clemency process. The move wipes out the five- and seven-year waiting periods, allowing felons who served their sentences and paid their court-ordered debts to automatically get their civil rights restored, The Hill reports. The changes restore the rights to hold office, serve on a jury and get a license for certain jobs.

This “automatic process” is “going to streamline everything,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said. 

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The sweeping changes reverse the waiting periods imposed by four Republicans when they took office in 2011. At the time, the clemency board was made up of former Gov. Rick Scott, former Attorney General Pam Bondi, former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, per News 6 WKMG.

Last year, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that former felons can’t vote in the state until they have paid all fines, fees and restitution associated with their prior sentences, theGRIO reported.  The court’s ruling sided with a law signed by DeSantis that required the state’s ex-cons to satisfy all outstanding legal financial obligations (LFOs) before they can get approved to vote. DeSantis’ 2019 law came after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, granting former felons the right to vote in 2018.

In creating his law, DeSantis and the Republican-led legislatures said Amendment 4 wasn’t specific enough and contained language, such as “all terms of sentence,” that needed to be better defined. DeSantis used this wording to sign S.B. 7066 in June 2019, requiring that former felons pay off all outstanding debts associated with their convictions before they can vote, according to CBS News. DeSantis then asked the Supreme Court to rule on the specific “all terms of sentence” language and whether LFOs could be considered a part of a felon’s sentence. Florida’s Supreme Court ruled that outstanding debts incurred at the time of an inmate’s sentence fall under the phrase.

DeSantis’ proposed changes to the state clemency process to address Amendment 4. 

“Those who have had their voting rights restored under Amendment 4, it makes sense to also restore the other civil rights,” DeSantis said. “Now, felons who have not completed all terms of the sentence or who have not received a judicial modification or conversion of sentence sufficient to satisfy Amendment 4 may not receive the automatic restoration of civil rights without a hearing. They may continue to apply for a restoration of civil rights with a hearing, under the current clemency process.”

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A spokesperson for the Rights Restoration Coalition said Florida’s new clemency plan is “not only good for returning citizens, we know that’s good for the entire state.”

Newly Sworn-In Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Makes Announcement Regarding Florida Supreme Court In Miami
Gov. Ron DeSantis (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images,)

While the plan is certainly an improvement, it still leaves thousands of residents without civil and voting rights.  

“While incremental progress is better than none, this Clemency Board will continue to impede the civil and voting rights of Florida’s citizens at a historic rate. It goes against what Floridians voted for in both Amendment 4 and in us as the elected leaders of our state,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. 

The new clemency plan will not apply to individuals convicted of murder or sex offenses.

*theGRIO’s Dawn Onley contributed to this report

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