Gov. Rick Scott and Florida’s cabinet unanimously approved changes to clemency rules that impose new waiting periods on felons seeking to have their civil rights restored.
The changes scale back the automatic restoration of rights — including the right to vote — for offenders who have completed their sentences, a program begun under former Gov. Charlie Crist.
The text of the new rules was not publicly available until after today’s meeting began, and some members of the cabinet were only able to read them the same day they approved them. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he hadn’t seen the specific changes until he was given a printout before the meeting began.
Several Democratic lawmakers called on the board to delay its decision.
“Why the rush to go back to where we started from?” asked state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. “It appears we are going in circles.”
Police officers and prosecutors spoke in favor of the changes, arguing that the waiting periods provide for felons to prove they will not return to a life of crime — part of repaying their debt to society.
Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger said requiring past offenders to prove they have reformed themselves “ensures accountability,” echoing an argument made earlier by Attorney General Pam Bondi, who helped lead the effort to make the changes.
Bondi said the new rules would help “restore proper respect for law-abiding citizens.”
Newly elected state Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, told the cabinet that his campaign, completed just last week, showed him that people would be less likely to break laws when they understand them and have a say in how they are made.
A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds fewer Republicans (16 percent, down from 33 percent last September) and Americans overall (14 percent, down from 23 percent) describing themselves as angry with the federal government.
CITIZENLink, a Focus on the Family-affiliated website, features a recent post that praises Florida legislators for accepting $2.5 million a year from the Affordable Care Act to fund the state's abstinence education programs.