Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Politics

Tampa lawyer leads campaign opposing voting rights for felons

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE — A Tampa lawyer is launching a campaign to oppose a 2018 statewide ballot measure that would restore the right to vote for more than a million convicted felons in Florida, except those convicted of murder and felony sex crimes.

Attorney Richard Harrison has formed a nonprofit group, Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy, and created a website to reach voters.

Harrison is taking on the American Civil Liberties Union and others, including the Clearwater-based group Floridians for a Fair Democracy, who are trying to change the state's requirement that convicted felons wait at least five years after leaving prison before they can seek restoration of their civil rights, including the right to vote.

Harrison opposes the amendment's language, which he says is too broad in restoring voting rights of felons except those who have committed murder or sex offenses.

"The most significant concern is the fact that it treats all felony convictions the same, other than the excluded categories," Harrison said. "It's a one-size-fits-all approach, which we believe is not good policy."

Florida is one of three states that permanently strips the civil rights of convicted felons, even after they have completed all terms of their sentences. On their own time and at their own expense, felons must petition the governor and Cabinet to regain the right to vote, own a firearm, run for office or serve on a jury. The process is a vestige of the Jim Crow era that often begins decades after felons leave prison and typically takes years to complete.

Gov. Rick Scott and the three Republican Cabinet members meet four times a year as the Board of Executive Clemency to consider cases, but more than 20,000 people are on a waiting list. Former Gov. Charlie Crist streamlined the process after he took office in 2007 to allow many felons to regain the right to vote without formal hearings. Scott and the Cabinet changed the rules in 2011 to require a five-year waiting period.

Harrison said the current system is far from perfect. But he said that Floridians who don't like the status quo should "elect new people" to the governor's office and Cabinet. He said it's wrong to change the Constitution in a way that treats non-violent felons and many violent felons the same, equating a petty thief who steals lobster traps with a robber who shoots a convenience store clerk.

Harrison, who filed his group as a tax-exempt nonprofit with the state last month, declined to say how many people support his cause.

"It is more than just me, but I'm not going to discuss our membership," said Harrison, 56, a Stetson University College of Law graduate who described himself as a conservative Republican.

The proposed amendment states: "Any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation. No person convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense shall be qualified to vote until restoration of civil rights."

Supporters cleared an important hurdle in April when the Florida Supreme Court approved the ballot initiative's wording. But they still must collect signatures from 766,200 registered voters in at least 14 of the state's 27 congressional districts by Feb. 1 for the amendment to reach voters on the November 2018 general election ballot.

The ACLU has committed at least $5 million to the effort, and the group already has donated $500,000, according to campaign finance reports on file with the state.

Desmond Meade, who is leading the petition drive for the measure, said he wasn't impressed by Harrison's challenge.

"I don't even know who this guy is," said Meade. "That's just one person. There are thousands of people in Florida who do believe in second chances, and they are out there in the streets. That's where the focus should be."

At a Florida Democratic Party LGBTQ conference in Tallahassee last weekend, attorney Barry Munroe urged everyone in the room to get at least 15 voters to sign petitions. He said faith-based groups, prison ministries and voter advocacy groups are all working to change the Constitution, and that it's only a matter of time before Florida modernizes its civil rights process.

"If we don't get it this time, we'll get it next time," Munroe said, referring to the 2020 election cycle.

Contact Steve Bousquet at sbousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.

Comments
Trump offers support for Moore in Alabama Senate race despite misconduct allegations

Trump offers support for Moore in Alabama Senate race despite misconduct allegations

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to offer support to Republican candidate Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, saying the former state judge "totally denies" allegations that he sexually molested underage girls years ago."He d...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s tourism chiefs at Visit Florida spend a lot of public money taking trips to exotic places to promote Florida as a top worldwide destination.Four former top-level staff members at the state’s tourism promotion and its c...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A second woman has accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching.Lindsay Menz tells CNN that Franken placed his hand on her bottom as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, two years into Fran...
Published: 11/20/17
Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

TAMPA — A week ahead of the expected vote on a controversial tax reform bill, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited Tampa to deliver a message to small businesses: This bill will hurt you."Small businesses are the economic engine of F...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/20/17
As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is willing to remove a contentious provision taking aim at the Affordable Care Act from the GOP tax overhaul plan if politically necessary, a move ...
Published: 11/19/17

Many Christian conservatives are backing Alabama’s Roy Moore

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama’s Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn’t fit the evangelical mold. ...
Published: 11/19/17
Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

WASHINGTON — It’s been nearly six years since the Senate Ethics Committee conducted a major investigation of a sitting senator. Next year, the panel could be working nonstop, deciding the fate of up to three lawmakers, including two facing allegation...
Published: 11/18/17
PolitiFact: Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Here’s why

PolitiFact: Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Here’s why

Before gobbling turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie — or engaging in a well-informed political spat with your family — some of you might wonder where the Thanksgiving tradition originated.We wondered, too. So we talked with historians to get the facts s...
Updated: 7 hours ago
In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

UTICA, N.Y.Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath."You need a little bit more oil," the mechanic said."Five quarts wasn’t eno...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/20/17
Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners recently decided to go after the pocketbooks of several residents who filed unsuccessful ethics complaints against one of their colleagues.If history is any indicator, the maneuver is more likely to cost taxp...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/19/17