ACLU of Florida Says Gov. Bush's Task Force Overlooks Impact of Felon Disenfranchisement

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
April 26, 2006 12:00 am

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MIAMI, FL – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said today that it applauds Governor Bush’s willingness to look at one of the problems created by disenfranchisement. At the same time, the organization noted that the root cause of ineffective reentry efforts for ex-offenders is the automatic stripping of the civil rights of ex-felons.

“It is startling that the Governor seeks to address problems associated with the employment of former offenders and their reentry into our communities and at the same time ignore the underlying cause of the problem,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida. “It is the Civil War-era system of loss of civil rights and lifetime disenfranchisement, depriving people of the right to vote and their eligibility for almost a hundred state occupational licenses that must be addressed.”

Executive Order 06-89, signed yesterday by Gov. Jeb Bush, follows up on a Task Force directed to improve the way Florida helps ex-offenders restart their lives and reduce the rates of repeat offenses. However, without restoration of civil rights, persons with felony convictions cannot obtain many state occupational licenses.

“There are approximately 89 professions or occupations that require Florida state licensure, which means that individuals who have completed all terms of their sentence may not be able to provide for their families and themselves once they return to our communities,” said Laleh Ispahani, Voting Rights Fellow for the national ACLU. . “Disenfranchisement disproportionately affects minority and poor communities, and it is these communities that need to have barriers to employment removed and have a strong voice in the political process through voting.”

The inability for an ex-felon to obtain a work license is merely a symptom of the unfair denial of basic rights. Many of the 600,000 ex-offenders living in Florida continue to be deprived of basic civil rights such as the right to vote and the right to work. Florida’s state Constitution is one of only three in the U.S. that automatically strips ex-felons of their civil rights, making it difficult for them to re-integrate as productive members of society. Working to support themselves and their families is equally as important as the right to vote; and being an active, participating member of the community helps with rehabilitation.

“This problem deserves an honest analysis,” said Simon. “The Governor cannot instruct state agencies to identify barriers to employment for former felons and not also look carefully at the constitutional provision requiring lifetime disenfranchisement and loss of civil rights.”

The ability to vote is a fundamental right that is currently denied to ex-felons, and Gov. Bush refuses to seek a real solution, the ACLU said. The answer lies in changing the Constitution to automatically restore civil rights to ex-felons, not to grant certain rights and continue to deny others.

The ACLU of Florida is a member of the national Right to Vote coalition and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which both work toward constitutional reform to end felon disenfranchisement and to restore the essential rights to which ex-felons are entitled.

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