Proposed law would restore felons' rights

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE) - More than 22,000 felons are waiting to be granted clemency by the OEC, or Office of Executive Clemency, but only a few hundred are processed each year. The average wait time is nine years.

“They’ll never catch up. Putting more money into the OEC, to me, is not a solution. If we double, triple, quadruple staff, we’re still not going to get the numbers as everyday, more and more felons are leaving the system,” Representative Cord Byrd, (R) Jacksonville, said.

New legislation would give judges the authority to restore felons' rights after the person serves their time and pays any outstanding fines.

“All we’re doing is asking the same court that sentences that person to be able to restore their rights,” Byrd said.

Under the proposal, felons would be allowed to have a judge review their case once a year.

Justice advocates argue the courts are already backed up. Allowing judges to restore felons rights would add to the work load, potentially resulting in what we have now, a backlog.

There are also constitutional concerns.

“The constitution doesn’t allow for that process. We have a process where the Cabinet does all the reviews for everybody that’s actually trying to get their rights restored," Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance said.

There are efforts to change the constitution. The Constitutional Revision Commission is considering an amendment that would automatically restore non-violent felons’ right to vote after they serve their time. A similar amendment has collected more than 490,000 valid signatures with as many as 500,000 more yet to be validated. Only 766,200 signatures are required for the proposal to make it on the ballot.

More than a million Floridians are unable to vote because of felony convictions.