Florida the rules are different here Chapter LXXII
State Senator Gary Siplin who lost his right to vote because he's a convicted felon, is proposing legislation to give back this right back to felons once their sentence(s) are served. Talk about irony and self serving legislation. Siplin isn't even serving jail time, just three years probation and 300 hours community service. Don't you just love Florida?
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TALLAHASSEE -- State Sen. Gary Siplin lost his right to vote in elections because he's a felon. But he can still vote in the Florida Legislature, and he is trying to make sure he and other felons automatically get their rights back after they finish their sentence.
Siplin, a Democrat, introduced a bill last week that would change the state's long-standing constitutional ban on felon voting. Now, the state's clemency board has to hear each case to decide whether to restore the rights, a process that can take months or years.
Senate leaders from both parties said Tuesday they would have preferred that Siplin let someone else sponsor a bill on the subject.
"It probably wasn't the smartest bill for Gary to file," said Senate Minority Leader Steven Geller, D-Cooper City.
"He would be well served to leave it to Sen. (Mandy) Dawson, who has been the champion of that legislation," said Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.
Dawson, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, filed a similar bill (SB 202) a week before Siplin, the first Florida legislator to remain in office after a felony conviction.
"Before all this happened, he's always been very supportive with this issue," Dawson said Tuesday, shortly after speaking by phone with Siplin. "He did indicate he'd be willing to withdraw it and work with us."
Messages left for the 52-year-old attorney at his district office in Orlando and at his Capitol office were not returned.
Florida is one of just three states -- all in the South -- that doesn't automatically restore voting rights, said Geller. He is optimistic the proposal will get traction in the 2007 session since Republican Gov.-elect Charlie Crist campaigned on changing the law.
Siplin was convicted in August on felony grand theft charges for having employees work on his 2004 re-election campaign on state time.
He was sentenced last month to three years' probation and 300 hours of community service, but that was later postponed pending the outcome of an appeal.
Siplin's attorney, Bruce Rogow, said Tuesday that briefs are due in the case in late January. Pruitt said the Senate, which has never expelled one of its members, wouldn't seek to remove Siplin before his appeal is heard.
A state Supreme Court ruling in 1918 said an elected official cannot be disqualified from office until a criminal case has been decided on appeal.
"This is not in our arena," Pruitt said. "It's in a judicial arena. We're not in a position to take action on this."
Siplin was disqualified from voting because of the conviction, but has not been formally removed from the state's voter database, Orange County Elections Supervisor Bill Cowles told The Miami Herald this month.
Cowles' office was closed Tuesday, and phones there weren't accepting messages.