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April 1, 2007 - Miami Herald (FL)

Crist Set To Unveil Felons' Rights Plan

Civil Rights Groups Are Criticizing The Governor's Proposed Plan To Restore Felons' Rights.

By Mary Ellen Klas (

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to announce as early as Monday that he has reached agreement with two other Cabinet officials to end Florida's Jim Crow-era law and allow for the automatic restoration of rights for most felons in Florida who complete their sentences.

The draft proposal, reviewed by the American Civil Liberties Union, could give as many as one million Floridians newfound rights to vote, serve on a jury and obtain occupational licenses with one hitch -- they pay their court-ordered financial obligations before their rights are restored, not after.

That hitch has riled civil rights advocates, who have long sought the change.

Argues ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon: Most felons are already locked out of jobs because they don't have their civil rights. To require them to pay their court-ordered fees before they can get the jobs to repay their debt is a "backwards" way of approaching rights restoration, he said.

In an e-mail to hundreds of allies across the state on Saturday, Simon warned that Crist's proposal "continues to perpetuate a system that disenfranchises people of limited financial means."

He urged people to petition the governor and Cabinet and ask them to reconsider the plan before it votes on it on Thursday.

Crist spokeswoman Erin Isaac would not comment on the draft plan Saturday other than to say that "we have not put a timeline on it."

Simon said that if Crist can revamp the proposal to allow felons to restore their rights and then repay their debts, he will be known as "the civil rights governor."

But, he added, "my fear is that is he may blow the opportunity by settling for a lousy deal."

In Florida, former convicts who have served their sentences to go through a lengthy and cumbersome process, including a review before the clemency board, to have their rights restored.

Crist campaigned last year on the promise that he would bring Florida in line with all but two other states that allow felons to get their rights automatically restored.

The governor needs two members of the four-member Cabinet, who also serve on the Board of Executive Clemency, to sign an executive order to change the law.

He faces resistance from Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.

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