Lawmakers look to restore all rights for some felons

Inmate handcuffed behind bars. Photo courtesy Community Care

State Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, filed Senate Bill 1932 last week at the start of the legislative session, If approved, it will allow non-violent offenders in Florida to gain full restoration of their civil and firearm rights.

In the past, felons have had to wait five years after their prison release date and apply to an offender review board before becoming eligible to have their rights restored. Now, felons will be automatically eligible after paying their court fees.

“We have an opportunity to further improve the process and efficiently restore the basic constitutional rights of individuals with a prior criminal record who have paid their debts to society,” Perry said at a news conference.

The bill has been referred to the Judiciary, Criminal Justice, and Rules committees. While it would restore firearm rights to felons, violent convictions will still be blocked.

Non-violent offender and Tallahassee resident Khalieb Coleman believes that passing SB1932 is the right thing to do. 

“The bill is a step forward toward equal rights. Non-violent felons should have the right to have all of their civil rights back after conviction and after they paid their dues back to society,” Coleman said. “Offenders shouldn’t be held back because of a non-violent crime or a mistake that happened when they were a minor. Certain things are forgivable and in those cases, they should be because a simple mistake shouldn’t be able to ruin your life. Having your civil rights removed from you dehumanizes you because you are no longer considered as a person after conviction and felonies.”

SB-1932 will go into effect on July 1, 2021, if passed along with a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis also suggested an up-to-date regulation for the restoration of civil rights by removing the waiting period for felons to have their civil rights restored.

Felons who have paid or are in the process of paying court-mandated fines, fees and restitution related to their crimes will have to apply for the process to start and their rights automatically restored. The suggestions were adopted by the Florida Cabinet, serving as the Board of Executive Clemency.

The new regulations are outlined to continue or start providing direction for felons who have completed all terms of sentence under Amendment 4, allowing them to apply for automatic restoration of their full civil rights with or without a hearing, streamline the rules, and expediting the processing of clemency applications, and reducing the backlog of clemency cases.

According to DeSantis, the new regulations would be better for felons.

“Those who have had their voting rights restored under Amendment 4, it makes sense to also restore the other civil rights,” DeSantis said.

The newly implemented policy by DeSantis, will not apply to felons convicted of murder or sex crimes.