Friday, January 28, 2005

What’s In It For Jeb?

From the Miami Herald:

Two powerful Republican lawmakers are urging Gov. Jeb Bush to restore civil rights to felons who have completed their sentences — and have vowed to support a voter referendum to end Florida’s 137-year-old ban altogether if the governor refuses.

Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican and chairman of the criminal justice committee, said the Legislature could put an amendment on the ballot that would permanently eliminate the ban from the Florida Constitution if a majority of voters approves.

“I think it has great potential,” he said. “If our committee would do it, then we could get this [idea] out of the Legislature and get it onto a statewide ballot. Its time has come.”


Florida is one of seven states that strip felons of their civil rights for life unless the Clemency Board, composed of the governor and Cabinet, restores them. The state Constitution gives the Board complete authority over who regains rights, including the right to vote and serve on a jury.

Bush did not directly address the proposals by Wise and Villalobos, but an e-mail from his spokesman Jacob DiPietre said the governor “believes the current process is fair.

“[Florida’s clemency rules] require felons convicted of serious crimes to actively participate in the clemency process in order to have their rights restored.”

After a Herald investigation late last year exposed widespread flaws in Florida’s clemency system, Bush and the Cabinet revised some of the rules.


“It clearly doesn’t help public safety to unreasonably deny reformed felons the right to vote,” said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, a former federal prosecutor. “I think you want reformed felons back into the workplace, back into society, returning as legitimate citizens.”

But Gov. Bush is still disinclined to change the rules until he determines whether or not the convicted felons would be in a position to donate a truly interesting sum of money to his campaign.