As Florida voters prepare to decide whether to automatically restore the voting rights of about 1.5 million felons, the state is grappling with how to handle its lengthy backlog of clemency cases.
More than 10,000 felons are currently waiting for their applications to be reviewed by the Florida Commission on Offender Review, which has to sort through the case before it can head to Gov. Rick Scott for final approval.
The long application process for former felons has prompted a lawsuit by a voting rights organization that alleged the system exposed applicants to arbitrary treatment. And this year, as the commission scrambles to tackle the mountain of cases, they are also asking legislators for more money to “ensure that accurate eligibility determinations are made in a timely manner.”
On Wednesday, the Senate panel that oversees the commission’s budget proposed $500,000 in funding to help alleviate its workload with more staff.
The commission has not indicated how many employees it would hire with that pot of money, but it estimates that half a million dollars would help it slash the caseload by 2,100 in a year.
Since Scott was elected in 2011, he has granted clemency to 2,976 felons. The commission receives nearly 7,000 new clemency cases every year, encompassing restoration of rights, commutation of sentences, restoration of a person’s immigration status or an individual’s firearm authority.
Earlier this week, state officials said a grassroots initiative that would restore the voting rights of felons — except those convicted of murder and sexual offenses — qualified for the November ballot.
If 60 percent of voters approve the initiative, the constitutional change could prove to be a major relief to the commission’s workload.