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Should Ex-Felons Have Rights to Vote, Own Guns?

House Bill 903 authorizes persons suffering from legal disability due to criminal conviction to apply for relief to get their rights restored. (Pixabay)
House Bill 903 authorizes persons suffering from legal disability due to criminal conviction to apply for relief to get their rights restored. (Pixabay)
December 14, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida is one of four states in the nation that does not restore felons' rights after they've paid their dues. But a bill in the Florida Legislature could change that.

The bipartisan bill would make it easier for felons to win back their rights to vote and own guns. State Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, said she is a walking testimony of what second chances can mean. She used to walk the streets committing crimes and doing drugs.

She's turned her life around, and now says many like her should be able to get their rights restored so that they can participate in the democratic process and protect their families.

"If a burglar breaks in to his house and a gun is there, that convicted felon - even though it has been 50 years that they haven't been in any trouble - they can't protect themselves or their family,” Daniels said.

House Bill 903 would allow circuit and county judges a say on whether to reinstate a felon's rights. Currently it's up to the clemency board, a four-member panel led by Gov. Rick Scott that is currently facing a backlog of thousands of applicants.

With only four clemency board hearings per year, Scott and the Cabinet consider requests to restore rights to vote, run for office or own a gun by fewer than 100 people at a time. That leaves more than 20,000 people trapped in the pipeline.

Neptune Beach Republican Rep. Cord Byrd is bucking his party's usual tough-on-crime stance because, he said, it's just the right thing to do.

"When society has said, 'Here is your punishment for your crime,' when you've completed that, we should welcome you back in as a full member of society, not continue to punish them,” Byrd said; “sometimes for the rest of their life, if they never get their rights restored."

Meanwhile, another effort is under way to enshrine the rights of ex-felons in Florida's Constitution. The Constitutional Revision Commission is considering an amendment that would automatically restore nonviolent felons' right to vote after they serve their time.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL