tampabay.com

McCollum bucks Crist on felon vote

By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published April 5, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Bill McCollum cited opposition from police chiefs, narcotics agents and ordinary citizens Wednesday to bolster his claim that it would be "reckless and irresponsible" to restore civil rights to most felons in Florida without hearings.

McCollum's stepped-up criticism on the issue came on the eve of a special meeting of the Cabinet today, sitting as the four-member Board of Executive Clemency.

The former congressman, a Republican elected the state's chief legal officer in the fall, is the first major official to strongly oppose a major policy proposal by Gov. Charlie Crist, the man he succeeded as attorney general.

"I think it is reckless when you consider that almost half of those who are released from prison today will commit crimes and be back in prison within five years," McCollum said.

Among the letters released by McCollum's office were two from Tampa Bay residents. Citing personal experiences, M. Diane Hodson of St. Petersburg and Catherine Perry of New Port Richey said they support full restoration of civil rights, but only after a lengthy period without criminal convictions following completion of a felon's sentence.

McCollum cited letters of opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Narcotics Officers Association and Save Our Society From Drugs, a group whose chairman, Betty S. Sembler of Treasure Island, is a Crist supporter.

Crist, who ran for governor as both a strong supporter of public safety and civil rights, did not directly answer McCollum's criticism.

"I respectfully disagree," Crist said.

Crist is expected to have the support needed from Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink to make a major change in law today by allowing automatic restoration of civil rights in most cases.

Bronson and Sink both say felons must complete all terms of their sentences, including payment of restitution to victims, before regaining their right to vote, serve on a jury or own one of several professional licenses.

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or 850 224-7263.

On the web

Meeting set for today

Today's meeting of the Board of Executive Clemency begins at 9 a.m. It can be viewed on the Internet at www.wfsu.org/tfc/webcasts_archives.html. Choose the webcast 2 option.