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Lawmakers pump money into clemency process

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers are setting aside money to help alleviate the state’s heavy clemency caseload -- and speed up the process in which felons’ rights can be restored.

Top House and Senate budget writers have agreed to provide $750,000 to the Florida Commission on Offender Review during the upcoming fiscal year to help with the investigative portion of the process that leads to decisions by the Board of Executive Clemency.

That money will help Gov. Ron DeSantis and Cabinet members, who act as the clemency board, to chip away at nearly 24,000 clemency cases that had not been resolved as of April 1.

Initially, the commission asked legislative leaders for $500,000, but Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the House and Senate agreed to provide $750,000 after being “encouraged” by how new leaders have handled the clemency process compared to the past eight years when former Gov. Rick Scott was at the helm.

“There’s been disappointment from many of us over the last several years (in) the system that was in place with the Cabinet before and how they handled clemency petitions,” Bradley said when explaining his reasons for the additional funding.

The clemency process has long been controversial, with Scott and the Cabinet in 2011 imposing new rules that made it harder for felons to get their rights restored.

Last year, the commission also looked for funding to address its clemency caseload, but lawmakers zeroed out their request. The decision came after U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled the state’s process for restoring felons’ rights was “nonsensical” and unconstitutional. The state appealed that ruling, and the case is pending at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The money boost to the commission this year comes as state lawmakers work to finalize an implementation plan for Amendment 4, a ballot measure approved by voters in November that is designed to restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of felons who have fulfilled terms of their sentences.

While the outcome of how Amendment 4 will be implemented remains to be seen, budget writers say they want to aid the process for restoring felons’ rights through the clemency board. The clemency process also includes other issues, such as granting pardons.

“We were very encouraged by the new Cabinet and their probably more open-minded approach when considering these types of petitions, and they need money to be able to review people’s background and records and be able to make informed decisions,” Bradley said.

Details on how that money will be used remain to be determined, but Kelly Corder, a spokeswoman for the Commission on Offender Review, said the money will go toward hiring more staff to handle the clemency workload.

"Ultimately leading to more cases being reviewed," Corder said.