In a rare show of support for disenfranchised felons, the Florida Legislature on Monday unanimously passed a bill requiring county jails to help thousands of inmates apply for their civil rights once they have paid for their crimes, reports the Miami Herald. The bill, now headed to Gov. Jeb Bush for approval, closes a little-known loophole in state law that has cost an estimated 50,000 felons since 1980 the chance to vote, serve on a jury, hold public office or qualify for various occupational licenses.
Monday’s vote represents one of the first times in state history the Legislature has intervened on behalf of felons, who have been barred for 137 years by the state’s Constitution from regaining their most basic rights. Only the Florida Clemency Board, made up of the governor and Cabinet, can restore rights to felons. State law has required the Department of Corrections to assist felons released from state prison or supervision with the clemency process by automatically forwarding their names to the Clemency Board for consideration. But the law ignores felons released from dozens of local jails statewide, even though most are nonviolent offenders who should have the best shot at getting their rights back. The state largely relies on county officials, most often sheriffs, to run and regulate jails. The oversight was first revealed in a 2004 Herald investigation that exposed widespread breakdowns in Florida’s clemency system.