Convicted felons ask for change in Florida's clemency process

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Florida’s Clemency process has a July date in Federal court to justify the absence of standards it uses in denying or restoring civil rights.

Convicted felons came from across Florida to pour their hearts out Thursday.

“I had a very troubled young life,” said Arthur Rosenthal, who traveled three hours from Jacksonville to appear before the board.

They pleaded, even begged.

“How long does he have to be punished for the stupid things that he did as a very young man?” Delores Hawthorne who came from Tavares said.

More often than not the answer is a denial.

Ladetra Johnson traveled 300 miles to be there. She walked away with her voting rights, but the process took years.

“It was sort of discouraging because I didn’t think it wold take that long,” said Johnson.

Tallahassee native Rick McElroy waited almost 20 years to be able to vote again, he says he plans to vote for automatic restoration come November.

There are at least 10,000 people waiting for their day before the Executive Clemency Board. On this quarter’s agenda: 101 cases.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled the process unconstitutional. An appeal will be heard next month.

Afterward, Attorney General Pam Bondi, who helped orchestrate a more conservative approach seven years ago, said looking people in the eye is important.

"If these people go out and we give them a gun and they kill somebody, who does it come back on? All of us,” said Bondi. "The violent crimes and the public. And it's our job to look out for victims.”

No matter what happens during the federal appeal next month, the stage is set for a November vote on whether the process should be automatic once someone has done their time.

The felons' rights amendment needs a 60 percent vote to replace the current system.

Earlier this week a Florida Chamber poll showed it with 40 percent support.