SCOTT OPENS DOOR TO RECONSIDERING RIGHTS DECISION
By BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, November 1, 2011.......Gov. Rick Scott suggested Tuesday that he would be open to revisiting a Cabinet vote doing away with the automatic restoration of rights for felons, potentially reopening a racial and political powder keg.
Scott, who voted with the Cabinet in March to overturn the restoration policy, first opened the door to a change during a meeting with the Florida Legislative Black Caucus when one of the caucus' members, Rep. Perry Thurston, raised the policy as part of a series of the issues the group wanted to discuss.
The policy reinstated by Scott and the Cabinet -- which includes a five-year wait before nonviolent felons can apply to have their rights restored -- is one of the harshest in the nation.
"What's different about Florida? And why should we have such a long wait period and such a complex application process?" asked Thurston, D-Plantation.
In response, Scott shared a story with the group about a felon he had met recently who was having some troubles with life after having been released, then asked Thurston to provide him with more information about what other states do. Scott confirmed to reporters after the meeting that he was open to re-examining the policy.
"I'm not stuck with one way of doing things," he said. "If there's better of doing it, I'll look at it."
Lawmakers at the meeting said afterwards that they were skeptical that Scott lacked the information he needed about the change, but would provide the governor with their research and recommendations. They also said they were guardedly optimistic that Scott might push to reverse the policy.
"I'm probably an eternal optimist, so I'm going to give him an opportunity to actually stand behind that, and let's see if he's going to come back and actually take on some of those issues," said Rep. Mia Jones, a Jacksonville Democrat who chairs the caucus.
The legislators also pressed Scott to appoint more minorities to the judiciary and to the judicial nominating commissions that provide him with lists of nominees for open seats.
"Tell the JNCs to stop sending you bleached panels," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
Scott said he would try to promote diversity on the bench, but also made it clear he was not interested in appointing judges who didn't share his more limited view of the role of the courts.
And Scott pointedly noted that he is required to select some appointees to those commissions from a list sent to him by the Florida Bar.
"I'm going to use my best efforts. ... You've got to get the Bar to give me nominations," Scott said.