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Ex-senators pitch voting rights amendment

Former state Senate Democratic leaders Arthenia Joyner and Chris Smith have filed a measure with the Constitution Revision Commission that would restore voting rights to felons who have served their time and completed any other post-prison requirements.

Joyner, a Tampa lawyer, and Smith, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, are members of the commission, which can place state constitutional amendments directly on the 2018 general-election ballot.

Under the proposal, voting rights for convicted felons would be restored “upon completion of all terms of a sentence including parole and probation.”

Felons convicted of murder or a sexual offense would be excluded from the automatic voter restoration under the amendment.

“As we’ve seen in numerous hearings throughout the state, Floridians strongly support allowing fellow citizens who have completed their sentences, paid every fine, and done everything required of them, to rejoin society and regain their right to vote,” Smith said.

Joyner said the current clemency process takes five to seven years and is arbitrary and biased. “It disproportionately impacts lower- and middle-income Floridians – many of them sentenced for non-violent crimes – and continues to segregate them from fully participating in the democracy we celebrate. This needs to end,” she said.

The measure will have to win support from at least 22 members of the 37-member Constitution Revision Commission to be placed on next year’s ballot. It would require support from 60 percent of the voters to become effective.

In a separate process, voting rights groups are advancing a similar initiative, although it will have to gain more than 700,000 valid signatures by early next year to be placed on the November 2018 ballot.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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