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Gov. DeSantis and Florida Cabinet restore civil rights for Floridians with felony convictions

The changes will allow those with felony convictions who have completed their sentences and paid off debts to hold office and serve on a jury.
Credit: AP Photo/Phil Sears
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks Tuesday, March 2, 2021, during his State of the State address at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.

FLORIDA, USA — Floridians who have been convicted of felonies will no longer have to wait five years to have certain civil rights restored.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved the changes to the state's clemency process Wednesday.

Under the new changes, felons can automatically apply to have their rights restored rather than waiting five years after they have completed their sentences and paid off their court debts. The changes also restore the rights to hold office and serve on a jury.

DeSantis' changes follow the passing of Amendment 4 in 2018, which restored voting rights to as many as 1.4 million felons who had served all terms of their sentence. 

However, it wasn't smooth sailing for those trying to register following the amendment's passage. State lawmakers passed a bill stipulating that "all terms" of a sentence included paying off all fines and fees first. This left a majority of felons bogged down with hundreds or thousands of dollars in court fees.

And the complications didn't stop there.

Florida doesn't have a centralized system of record-keeping, so a growing number of felons who have completed their sentences say they aren't sure how much they actually owe in order to become eligible to vote.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called the changes an improvement but that it still leaves thousands of Floridians without their civil and voting rights. 

"While incremental progress is better than none, this Clemency Board will continue to impede the civil and voting rights of Florida's citizens at a historic rate. It goes against what Floridians voted for in both Amendment 4 and in us as the elected leaders of our state, she said."

The new changes to the clemency process would not apply to those convicted of murder or sex offenses. 

You can read the state's full rules of executive clemency here.

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