As the Senate motored through a long list of budget amendments on Wednesday, a proposal to boost funding to deal with the mounting clemency case backlog was tossed.
Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Pinellas County Democrat, withdrew his own amendment, which would have given the Florida Commission on Offender Review $500,000 in ongoing state funds to tackle its 10,000-plus clemency case backlog. The Senate is proposing the same amount in its 2018-19 spending plan, but as a one-time, nonrecurring sum.
“If anyone of these citizens wants to earn back their fundamental right to express themselves in government, they must plod through a gauntlet of constitutionally infirm hurdles,” Rouson said. “The federal court said no more.”
Rouson’s proposal comes after a federal court ruled last week that the state’s voter-restoration process for ex-felons is unconstitutional.
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has helped shape the system in which political bias usually determines whether an ex-felon can have their voting rights restored, according to the court ruling prompted by a lawsuit against the state.
Since Scott was elected in 2011, there have been 2,976 felons granted clemency. Rouson told senators that number has “plummeted” since Scott took office.
“As the body of the Senate we should make a strong statement before November that we care about restoring the rights of those who have paid their debt, done their time and deserve through redemption an opportunity to participate in the process,” he said.
In November, Floridians will have the chance to vote on a ballot initiative that could automatically restore the voting rights of 1.5 million citizens, a move that could impact the political climate in the nation’s largest swing state.
“I cannot tell you the number of times I have campaigned, like you have, knocked on doors and met people in community halls who said ‘I wish I could vote but my rights have not been restored,” Rouson said.