Florida’s Rights Restoration Laws leave over a million Floridians in legal limbo
Rev. Dr. Rosalind Osgood is a community activist and a strong supporter of Rights Restoration.
Florida Democratic House Leader Representative Perry Thurston blames Gov. Rick Scott for delaying access to rights restorations to millions of Floridians.
By Charles Moseley
(Part One of Two Parts)
Back in 2006 Florida’s former Governor Charlie Crist had established a process which made it possible for ex-offenders to apply for and ultimately have their Constitutional rights, including the right to vote, restored.
Hundreds of thousands of Floridians, who had served their sentences and paid their debt to society, took advantage of the Governor’s Executive Order.
Today under a Rights Restoration Policy enacted by Governor Rick Scott, ex-offenders must wait between five to seven years before being allowed to even apply to have their rights restored.
This issue has become highly politicized leaving both elected officials, community activists and social service providers who assist ex-offenders with becoming self-sufficient crying foul and advocating for reform of Florida’s present Rights Restoration laws, which they feel place undue restrictions and hardships on ex-offenders.
One of the most vocal political proponents of Rights Restoration has been Florida Attorney Perry Thurston, the Democratic Leader of the Florida House of Representatives. His legislative office worked directly with ex-offenders, providing Rights Restoration Workshops during the Charlie Crist gubernatorial administration.
“It’s disappointing where we stand and the problem with it is that Florida unlike other states is moving backward. Other states are being more progressive. When Governor Scott was elected he and Pam Bondi, the State Attorney General, made it the first priority of his Cabinet to resend the Executive Order that former Governor Charlie Crist enacted in 2006. That was the first official act of the Cabinet was to resend that. There was no basis for resending it. Although they did not fund, it many members of our of community still took advantage of this process that finally gave them a path to getting their rights reinstated. They obviously saw that and wanted to put an end to it, which they did by creating a policy for those people who had fully served their time, now have to wait five to seven years before they can apply. And that’s whenever they totally complete their sentence. And, on top of that, they have to wait another five to seven years. We are one of several states in the South that continue to totally disenfranchise our people by their past history. By previous past history I mean that they have already served their time.”
The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group has been studying and addressing this issue since its inception in 1986. Their research shows that many states intentionally retract the right to vote from felons, but states differ as to when or if the franchise can be restored. States with permanent disfranchisement prevent ex-convicts residing in that state from ever voting in federal elections, even though ex-convicts in other states convicted of identical crimes may be allowed to vote in such elections.
According to their research:
20 states: (Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) do not allow persons convicted of a felony to vote while the sentence is in effect, but automatically restore the franchise upon completion of a sentence.
Five states: (California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York, and South Dakota) allow probationers to vote but not in-mates or parolees.
13 states: (Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah) plus the District of Columbia allow probationers and parolees to vote, but not inmates, while Maine and Vermont allow prison inmates as well as probationers and parolees to vote.
Eight states: (Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming) allow some, but not all, persons with felony convictions to vote.
Two states: (Florida and Virginia) permanently disfranchise persons with felony convictions.
There are literally 10s of thousands of ex-offenders who have had their rights restored in recent years and are making major contributions in their respective communities. Rev. Dr. Rosalind Osgood is a prime example of such individuals. Rev. Osgood currently sits on the Broward County School Board, is an adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University, and is the CEO of The Mount Olive Development Corporation (MODCO), a socio-economic development agency. She has been a community activist who has worked tirelessly to help ex-offenders when they return to society.
“When we deal with this whole notion of Rights Restoration, I think it is vitally important that the people who have served their time, whatever time they were sentenced, they have access to help them become members of society. They should have access to society in every capacity. When somebody does not have their rights, it really limits their ability to get a job, to get housing, and it always makes them become second class citizens. When we look at it politically, there are several hundred thousand people that are released from incarceration every year. If we just took half of those persons who are part of that number, who are not eligible to vote because their rights are not restored, it’s a catastrophe. I find it very amazing that our recent governor has a very different view on this issue. One of the first things he did upon being elected was to make it even more difficult for persons to have their rights restored. I got my rights restored through the process established under former Governor Charlie Crist’s automatic Restoration of Rights. So, there was a system in place in the state of Florida that once someone has done their time and paid their debt to society, they could automatically have their rights restored. So we had a system in place, Governor Charlie Crist did it. Not to do so, is not the American way.”