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Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, debates a bill to expand the Gardiner Scholarship Program for children with disabilities on the Senate floor Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

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Senator’s proposal to boost funding for clemency case backlog withdrawn

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.

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Written By

Ana covers politics and policy Before joining the News Service of Florida she wrote for the Naples Daily News and was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.

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