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Amendment 4 offers second chances and a sensible addition to the Constitution

By Sean Pittman

Who would have thought that a move to grant convicted felons a second chance to regain their voting rights back would be the most sensible amendment question on Florida’s November ballot?

Amendment 4 would end an unfair, draconian clemency procedure that has its roots dating back to the Reconstruction. If the referendum passes, it will re-instate the vote to 1.5 million citizens of Florida, a number that could significantly impact who gets elected throughout the state  in future elections.

The amendment needs 60 percent of the vote to pass, and if it does, it would be the most impactful change to voting since women’s suffrage. Florida’s ‘Second Chance’ movement has already gained recognition by the popular HBO series, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and it has received the endorsement of almost every newspaper editorial board across the state.

Support for Amendment 4 is growing. The other amendments on the ballot?  Not so much.

The bulk of the blame for the long ballot rests with the Constitution Revision Committee (CRC), a panel appointed every 20 years to amend the constitution. Given what they came up with, Florida could have skipped this round and waited another two decades. The commission put forth eight amendments that most observers believe don’t belong in the state Constitution.

Of all the CRC amendments, Amendment 6, is particularly popular, and quite frankly, the most reasonable despite some concerns from public defenders regarding the rights of the accused. One that was not, Amendment 8, was removed from the ballot after the Florida Supreme Court decided the initiative was unconstitutional because of misleading drafting.

State lawmakers came up with three other amendments to push two initiatives that further caps spending and cuts taxes. One, Amendment 5, requires a two-thirds vote to raise fees and taxes, a terrible idea if the state ever needed additional revenue to address a crisis.

Florida’s citizens managed to get two initiatives on the November ballot. Amendment 3 bans the expansion of casino gambling without a voter referendum. In reality, it is nothing more than an attempt by corporate interests to quash any new gambling that threatens their current monopolies and lucrative entertainment operations. The amendment really doesn’t belong in Florida’s Constitution.

That leaves Amendment 4, the only reasonable ballot question that would restore voting rights to persons convicted of felonies, except those found guilty of murder and sex offenses.

Most states restore the voting rights to ex-felony offenders automatically after they have served their time and paid any restitution. Florida is one the few states that does not.

Our state has an antiquated procedure that starts with a five-to-seven year waiting period before individuals can actually apply to regain their rights. Individuals must then travel to Tallahassee and appear in person to appeal to the governor and three cabinet members who make up the state’s clemency board. Even then, there’s no guarantee. As Gov. Rick Scott told a man whose petition was denied: “There are no standards. We can do what we want.”

Florida voters can establish new and fair standards for those felons who have paid their debt to society, giving them a second chance at life and the ballot box. As Democratic Nominee for Governor Andrew Gillum has stated, Amendment 4 simply makes sense.

Sean Pittman is the Senior Partner of Pittman Law Group, a Tallahassee based law firm with statewide operations specializing in government, administrative and corporate law.

 

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