Attorney General Bill McCollum is gaining some support in his bid to block Gov. Charlie Crist and the rest of the state's Clemency Board from streamlining the state's process for restoring civil rights to convicted felons. McCollum's office Tuesday distributed letters from the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the state's Fraternal Order of Police urging a go-slow approach to Crist's restoration proposal, expected to be voted on later this week.
"It is important to ensure that likely repeat offenders, and particularly violent offenders, are not treated as law-abiding citizens," wrote FPCA President W. Nolan McLeod, the police chief of Live Oak. "With Florida already experiencing a sharp increase in violent crimes, the FPCA urges members of the Clemency Board to retain the current five-year waiting period to ensure felons are crime and arrest free."
About 950,000 Floridians convicted of felonies have not had their civil rights restored -- barring them from voting, serving on juries and holding occupational licenses.
President James Preston, president of the Florida FOP, echoed the call that a five-year delay be maintained between the completion of a felon's sentence and the restoration of rights.
Crist has been trying to build support among Clemency Board members to allow the restoration of civil rights once a felon's sentence is completed and any court-ordered financial restitution is made. The state's current system has proved cumbersome, requiring ex-offenders to complete a detailed application and, in some cases, win full approval from the Clemency Board in a public hearing.
The Clemency Board comprises Crist, McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson.
McCollum has distanced himself from Crist's approach, saying he wants to maintain the five-year delay for those convicted of serious offenses, supporting the standard sought by the law enforcement officials. But Sink supports Crist, leaving Bronson as a potential swing vote in the new governor's effort to end the prohibition against felons' voting, a holdover from the state's 1868 Constitution.
Bronson said he has let the governor's staff know he thinks violent criminals should continue to be required to go before the Clemency Board if they want their rights restored.