Clemency board approves sweeping changes, punts pardon for man who inspired them

Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 5:27 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAP NEWS/WCJB) -There were sweeping changes to the state’s clemency process approved Wednesday.

Floridians with past felony convictions will now have an easier time getting their rights back.

It reverses a decade-long policy of delay.

New clemency rules create an automatic pathway to restore felons’ right to serve on a jury and hold public office, as long as they qualify for voting rights restoration under Amendment 4.

“It makes sense to also restore the other civil rights,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

As with automatic restoration of voting rights, felons would still need to complete all terms of their sentence, including payment of fines, fees and restitution to qualify for automatic restoration of the right to serve on a jury and hold public office.

They would also still need to go before the clemency board to have the right to own a firearm restored.

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The change is expected to help clear a backlog of more than 24,000 seeking clemency and is being cheered by felons rights advocacy groups.

“When people with felony convictions have their civil rights restored they’re three times less likely to re-offend and we think that that’s not only good for returning citizens. We know that that’s good for the entire state,” said Deputy Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Neil Volz.

The rule changes expand the spirit of the 2018 felon voting rights restoration constitutional amendment, but it was a day of mixed emotions for Desmond Meade, the man who spearheaded that effort.

The Governor declined to issue a full pardon for Meade, who serves as the Executive Director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

The Governor took issue with a dishonorable military discharge in Meade’s past.

But after the meeting, it was a celebratory affair for members of FRRC nonetheless.

Meade said the progress made is what matters most.

“Even though I might have a personal disappointment, this thing is bigger than Desmond. Right? This is way bigger than Desmond. It’s about expanding democracy, expanding access to so many people that deserve it,” said Meade.

The Governor did suggest Meade would likely qualify for automatic rights restoration under the new rules, but it would still fall short of the clean slate he seeks.

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