Florida Urged To Change Rights-Restoration Rules For Felons

Advocates are urging the state to make it easier for felons to have their civil rights restored.

As Gov. Charlie Crist met last week with members of his Cabinet to consider requests from felons who want their civil rights restored, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition planned events throughout the state to call attention to what it says are problems with the process.

A report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, a member of the coalition, calls for Crist and the Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Executive Clemency, to change the rules.

Among other things, the coalition wants the state to stop requiring felons to pay restitution before winning back the right to vote.

"In a lot of states, people can vote even while incarcerated or on supervision," said Muslima Lewis, author of the report.

The report also calls for removing rights restoration as a requirement for getting a state-issued occupational license or job that requires state certification.

Crist issued an executive order in 2007 allowing civil rights restoration, including voting rights, for some nonviolent felons without having to plead their cases to the Executive Clemency Board.

"I am committed to ensuring that those who pay their debt to society have the opportunity to regain their right to choose our nation's leaders," Crist said in a statement released late Wednesday touting the changes.

More than 138,000 people have had their rights restored in the past two years, compared with about 83,000 in the 12 years before that. But the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition says hundreds of thousands of people are waiting.

Changing the rules of clemency requires support of the governor and two other members of the Executive Clemency Board.