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Florida streamlines rights restoration for felons

DeSantis, Cabinet back sweeping changes to clemency process

Appeals court rules Florida ex-felons can’t vote until they pay fines, fees. How could that impact election?
Appeals court rules Florida ex-felons can’t vote until they pay fines, fees. How could that impact election?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Clemency Board voted Wednesday to automatically restore most civil rights stripped from felons once they have completed their sentences, including court-ordered financial obligations.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed the new rules to streamline the restoration of rights. He and the independently elected Cabinet members that serve as the Clemency Board voted unanimously to approve them.

Felons who meet the criteria for restoration of rights still won't have the right to own, possess or use firearms, but they will be able to to serve on a jury and hold public office.

In 2018, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to restore felons' voting rights. When the Legislature implemented the amendment, it required all court costs, fines and restitution be paid as part of the completion of their sentences.

“I believe that those who have had their voting rights restored under Amendment 4, it makes sense to also restore the other civil rights,” DeSantis said.

The new policy will not apply to people convicted of murder or felony sex crimes.

The rules will still allow people who have court-imposed financial obligations to ask for a hearing to have rights restored.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida's only statewide elected Democrat, expressed concern about requiring financial obligations be met.

“What about the vast majority who can't afford the fines, fees, court costs and money that is owed to the government?” Fried said.

She suggested that people should be able to sign an affidavit of indigency. Her idea was not considered by the other board members.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said the new policy has been a topic of discussion in her office since she was sworn in more than two years ago.

“I thought these rules needed to be changed and I'm so grateful that the governor also made this a priority,” Moody said.

Neil Volz of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the group that led the effort to restore felon voting rights, praised the new rules.

“We know that, according to the Florida parole commission, when people with felony convictions have their civil rights restored they are three times less likely to reoffend,” Volz told the Clemency Board. “That’s not only good for returning citizens, we know that that’s good for the entire state.”