SARASOTA — Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday during a swing through Sarasota that he is “reviewing” a scathing new judicial ruling that ordered state leaders to overhaul their system of restoring felon’s voting rights.
“But let’s all remember what we’re talking about is people who have committed murder, people who have committed rape, they’ve done crimes against children,” Scott said. “When we review the cases we look at their domestic violence history because what I’m always going to stand for is I’m going to stand for victims. These crimes have victims and I’m always going to stand with them.”
When it was pointed out that someone can be branded a felon in Florida for stealing something worth just $300, Scott continued to insist that “we’re talking about people that have done heinous crimes.”
On Tuesday federal judge Mark Walker ordered Scott and the state Board of Clemency to come up with a new system for restoring felon’s voting rights by April 26.
Currently, felons must wait five to seven years after completing their sentences and then apply to have their civil rights restored. The Clemency Board — which includes Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — then weighs those applications and decides which ones to approve.
Florida is one of just three states that revoke felons’ voting rights for life unless they go through a clemency process. Walker’s ruling called the system “fatally flawed” and said it violates First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
Florida barred nearly 1.5 million felons who have completed their sentences from voting in 2016, according to estimates from The Sentencing Project. The state has 48 percent of the nation’s felons who have completed their sentences but still cannot vote, according to The Sentencing Project analysis.
Florida voters will have a say over whether certain felons should have their voting rights restored. Rights restoration advocates collected enough signatures to put the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The proposed amendment to the state constitution would automatically restore voting rights for felons — excluding those who committed murder or sex crimes — once they complete their sentences.
Scott was in Sarasota to tout increased environmental spending in the 2018-19 state budget. He visited Mote Marine Laboratory to highlight two appropriations for Mote, a $500,000 effort to restore coral reefs and $1.5 for a partnership to study red tide.
Scott was asked about another environmental issue that has been in the spotlight recently, the push by President Donald Trump’s administration to open up more offshore waters to oil drilling and Florida’s supposed exemption from that proposal.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew to Tallahassee on Jan. 9 and declared during a press conference with Scott at the airport that “we are not drilling off the coast of Florida.”
But Zinke seemed to backtrack on those comments during congressional testimony. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Zinke said during one committee hearing that “Florida did not get an exemption” and said during another that “Florida is still in the process.”
Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift told the Times that the secretary “said Florida did not get an exemption because there is no such thing as an exemption. The process is designed to be a winnowing process that involves several public meetings, comment periods and drafts. We have nothing new to announce at this time.”
Scott said that he is confident there will not be drilling off the coast of Florida.
“Secretary Zinke is an honorable person,” Scott said. “I believe it when he tells me that Florida’s not going to have offshore drilling.”