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Amendment 4: My Friend Barney Bishop Quoted Me Out of Context

April 9, 2019 - 7:00am

No reasonable person would think Florida voters approved Amendment 4 to make it harder for felons to regain the right to vote than it was under former Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet in their role as Florida’s Clemency Board. 

Despite other restrictions in the executive clemency process, that is where the Legislature is heading if it requires felons to pay all fines, fees and restitution before they could vote again.

Barney Bishop wrote a column recently entitled, "Amendment 4 Needs Clarity, in Spite of What You Hear from the Media and Proponents." I concur.

He noted a “good friend of mine who testified for the proponents and who is a good lawyer with a long-held passion for helping the downtrodden and forgotten, accidently I believe, let the cat out of the bag when he said ‘felony sexual offenses’ was used as a marketing tool after polling indicated that those words would be easily understood by citizens."

Without mentioning my name. Barney was referring to me. He exclaimed in that piece, words matter. Once again. I concur, which is why I decided to respond -- and gave Barney a heads-up, especially since he’s a friend. I told him I intended to clarify what I presumed was an inadvertent conflation of what I said.

The confusion presumably arose given that he referenced only a limited portion of my larger observations before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Said another way, what I said was taken out of context.

I shared my informal understanding that framers of the ballot initiative conducted extensive polling and determined essentially it would make sense to exclude murder and sex offenses from Amendment 4 rather than attempt to take on a massive public education campaign in the nation’s third most populous state. The task would have entailed efficiently and effectively explaining there’s no public safety imperative to treat violent from non-violent case histories differently for purposes of post-sentence restoration of voting eligibility. As an aside, some states allow inmates to vote from prison regardless of the severity of the offense(s), and others while on parole or probation.

To be clear, my observation was that polling data prompted framers to incorporate two categories of excludable offenses, not all violent offenses per se. And it was not that polling data prompted framers to use any particular term. I recognize that Barney may have missed that distinction.

As far as letting the cat out of the bag, had I been afforded an opportunity, I might have been guilty as charged if for no other reason than cruelty to animals considerations. Seriously, at this point, it also might be useful to clarify that in every instance when I’ve appeared before legislative committees pertaining to these matters, I’ve done so not as a proponent or an opponent of any bill, rather “For Information” in an effort to disabuse a number of popular, albeit not necessarily well-founded, narratives. All is a matter of public record. I also should underscore my tack generally is more toward dispassionate analysis than passionate advocacy regardless of the issue.

Anyway, some lawmakers are responding to a preliminary proceeding before the Florida Supreme Court in May 2017 wherein Jon Mills, former speaker of the Florida House and dean emeritus of UF's' Levin College of Law, appeared on behalf of proponents as if his assertions amounted to the equivalent of the actual text of the amendment. It doesn’t. As readers may be aware, he asserted fines, fees and restitution must be paid for restoration of former offender voting eligibility.

The irony of Mills’ role on the 1997-98 iteration of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission advocating for, in effect, user fees as an alternative means to fund the Judicial Branch aside, the proceeding in May 2017 was limited in scope. Once a ballot initiative reaches a certain point in the process, Florida’s highest court routinely reviews whether the language essentially is plain and addresses a single subject. The language at face value was the matter before the Court — nothing more.

Any pronouncements by Mills that day or the coalition of grassroots voices and stakeholders at any point are incontrovertibly more distracting than binding.

Beyond issues involving monetary obligations and the qualitative difference among them, legislators could broaden any clarifying legislation to facilitate implementation statewide. For instance, eligibility to serve on a jury is a statutory right and holding public office is a logical extension of voting. The Legislature could decide such complementary civil rights should be restored along with voting eligibility.

Finally, research by the investigative arm of the governor and Cabinet as Florida’s Clemency Board might help to inform legislators' approach toward these ends. It indicates post-sentence civil rights restoration tends to reduce recidivism and promote more successful reentry.

Accordingly, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that ensuing restoration of voting eligibility under Amendment 4 and ideally the other complementary rights is as easy and inclusive as possible would be in the best interests of all parties -- ex-offenders would have a voice in their governance, victims would be more likely to collect restitution given ex-offenders’ increased opportunity to  earn an income upon more successful reentry, and community policing objectives would be advanced by lowering recidivism rates.

Mark R. Schlakman is senior program director at Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. He previously served as assistant general counsel and clemency aide for Gov. Lawton Chiles.


Republican DNA requires that all good GOPpers do everything they can to obstruct the voting rights of all those they perceive to be potential voters for the opposition party. 'Jim Crow' is as alive and well in the south in 2019 as he was back in the 1870s and onward.

The felons NEED to make restitution to their victims before their voting rights are restored! They need to be held accountable for their actions and complete the requirements of the courts.

Blacks fared VERY WELL during the "Jim Crow era", which produced the likes of Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, and scores of other highly educated Black professionals (without the "crutch" of "Affirmative Action", and the crippling effects of Pres. Lyndon Johnson's (a renowned racist) whose "Great Society" law drove husbands/fathers out of the home, leaving single mothers eligible for substance of all kinds, and children of these broken families "shortchanged" forever more); Not to mention Margaret Sanger's "Planned Parenthood" aborted millions of Black babies (which, by now, would have resulted in MILLIONS MORE Blacks in America). My question ?: WHY DO BLACKS PERSIST IN VOTING 'DEMOCRAT'?!?!?

You forgot Dr. George Washington Carver, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and the entire group of artists who were part of the Harlem Renaissance. I do have to wonder what kinds of "substances" single mothers were eligible for according to your comment. Have you ever used Planned Parenthood? I think that we should have free contraceptives available to ALL women. It would eliminate the need for abortions and it might actually eliminate people having multiple babies when they can't feed them, clothe them or parent them! It is not society's job to "take care" of single mothers who make bad choices. To answer your final question, " Why do Blacks persist in voting Democrat?" I think it is because the Democrats talk a good game. Right now, they are all jumping on the bandwagon of reparations for slavery. I notice that there is no talk of reparations for the earlier genocide, enslavement and marginalization of Native Americans. You would think that these acts were even more egregious, however, Native Americans don't vote as a block and they are a much smaller percentage of the population. It is only recently that Republicans starting reminding people which party ended slavery and which fought to maintain it.

You know what C Breeze. I generally avoid interaction with you. But dud... Your comment is just so uninformed, so misinformed, so outrageous I had to answer. Especially since you didn't answer me, after another uninformed comment. Dude, you don't have a fing clue just how outrageous and insulting your comment is. I'm a old white male. I grew up during segregation and Jim Crowe. It was ugly and demeaning. People were murdered, raped and demeaned. You are wrong.

Me thinks Mr. SCHLAKMAN doth protest too much. ANY FELON "released" from prison, does NOT "regain his Constitutional Rights" UNLESS "Officially Pardoned by the President of the U.S. ,.. or the Governor of the State of incarceration.

Exactly where in the US Constitution does it say that? Especially considering they don't lose most of them. And Florida is only 1 of a handful that restricts anything other than their 2nd amendment rights. Now. Be exact. Quote the exact words that remove a felons constitutional rights. And be absolutely certain of the intent of the writers too. See, wording and intent are the only way to interpet.

It's a fact that the framers of A4 excluded Murder and "felony sexual offenses" for pol expediency. That was a copout. It's unconstitutional to restrict citizens from voting, no matter their offense(s). Once a sentence is complete. Once the offender is no longer under the control of DOC, sentence is complete. Period. The most important rights to protect are those we disagree with. Because if we don't protect them we can't expect anyone to protect ours. Whenever government is allowed to make exceptions, you may become the next exception. The policy is a holdover from Jim Crowe days. Today, it's somebody else's rights. Tomorrow, it may well be you. Your right to vote. Your right to own a firearm. Your freedom is at risk if anybody's freedom is restricted. Remember this. Our Founders fought a revolution over lack of representation. Whenever a person has no voice in the government that rules over them they're a subject, not a citizen.

The people have spoken. The politicians need to get out of the way. Florida's past views on restoring rights to ex-offenders were arcane and draconian. This should be simple. Once the felon has paid any court ordered restitution and served his/her sentence, rights should be automatically restored. That's all rights. Let's get this done and move on to other challenges.

Typical lawyer. Takes a thousand words to say nothing different.

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