TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters)- Florida officials on Thursday voted to end the practice of stripping ex-criminal offenders of their civil rights, including the right to vote.
Florida is one of just three U.S. states, all in the Deep South, that have maintained long-standing constitutional barriers to restoring civil rights to those that have committed serious crimes, rights groups say.
Meeting in a special session, the Florida Clemency Board agreed by a 3-1 vote to allow some 950,000 ex-felons to automatically have their civil rights restored, removing a barrier that goes back 140 years.
The changed rules still require the state’s most serious offenders — murderers and sexual offenders — to undergo a formal review by the four-member panel led by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
“We must provide a system to allow these people to become productive members of society,” said Crist, invoking Passover and the Easter holidays as a time of forgiveness.
The vote pitted Crist against Attorney General Bill McCollum, also a Republican and the sole dissenter in the ruling, and is just one of a raft of ways in which Crist is distinguishing himself from his predecessor as governor,