Florida’s clemency board rules on 70 cases amid felons’ rights fight

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images,)
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images,) (2019 Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal judge has suggested the state of Florida is dragging its feet in an effort to delay allowing felons the right to vote until after the 2020 election.

The governor and cabinet met as the clemency board Wednesday, and disposed of just 70 cases.

Larry Barefield got caught 25 years ago with a small amount of crack cocaine. ”I don’t drink no more, don’t do no drugs,” he said.

Barfield and his wife Janey were in the Capitol asking for all of his rights back, including the authority to own a gun. What he got was his voting rights restored.

“I feel good," he said. “I feel good about that, but I want it all redone.”

“It’s like ten years ago we first applied,” added Janey Barefield.

Roy Hemlock was convicted of attempted sexual battery. He told the panel the crime was trumped up by an angry wife during a bitter divorce. He broke down when he was denied.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t be held responsible,” Gov. Ron DeSantis told Hemlock.

“But sir, I didn’t do what I was accused…” said Hemlock before collapsing in a fit of tears.

Chris Taylor also got turned down because he hadn’t paid a $50,000 fine. “A lot of this things are so old, it’s difficult to find paperwork,” said Taylor.

“We only got married after they told him his fines had gone away,” Taylor’s wife, Elizabeth, said.

A federal judge has already ruled the state must give felons the right to vote if they can’t afford to pay their fines and fees.

The state is appealing.

The lone Democrat on the clemency board, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, said no matter what happens in court, the panel could change its own rules.

“We have the power today as the clemency board to change the rules and regulations," she said. “And I am completely supportive of us moving forward with those changes.”

After meeting for just a little over two hours, the panel concluded with a backlog of 13,000 cases remaining.

The Florida Supreme Court was asked by the governor to decide whether Amendment 4’s language “complete all terms of a sentence” means fines and fees.

It could issue a ruling as early as Thursday.