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Florida clemency board to restore civil rights for ex-convicts

Gov. Charlie Crist and other state officials can approve a new plan Thursday which will give the voting and civil rights to the felons who finished their sentences.

The Republican governor has proposed a compromise plan that would eliminate the need for nonviolent offenders - who make up about eight in 10 felons - to go on a lengthy waiting list for a hearing before a board on whether they should have their rights restored.

Florida is one of three U.S. states along with Kentucky andVirginia that make felons take action to restore their civil rights. In most other states, those rights are restored once people completes their sentence, probation or parole.

About a million released offenders in Florida have not regained rights that include voting, holding public office, the ability to serve on a jury, and eligibility for many occupational licenses.

Under a plan drafted by Crist's office, most felons would have their rights automatically restored if they have served their time and paid all outstanding court costs, restitution and other fees. Now, felons often have long waits for a hearing before the Board of Executive Clemency, which meets only four times a year and has a limited number of cases it can hear each time.

Those convicted of one of 25 serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, rape, burglary, terrorism and various sex offenses would still have to get in line for a hearing before the clemency board.

Automatic restoration also would not be granted to anyone who is a sexual predator, or who is classified as a habitual felon by the virtue of repeated convictions.

But those who have committed all but the most serious crimes would have their names sent to the clemency board, and unless the governor and two board members object within 30 days, they would have their rights restored.

Crist's plan needs approval from two of the three other members on the clemency board.

A recent federal lawsuit challenged Florida's rights ban on grounds that it disproportionately affected blacks. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument in 2005, noting Florida first banned felon voting in 1845 _ before blacks were allowed to vote. The U.S. Supreme Court later let that decision stand.

The ban was put into the state constitution in 1868.

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