3/30/18: Felon Voting Rights, Political Spending, Underwater Mortgages

Mar 30, 2018

A judge has ordered Gov. Rick Scott to find a new system for restoring voting rights for felons in Florida.

Meanwhile, the state may soon be ground zero when it comes to big political spending in the fall midterm elections.

Plus, we are still leading the country when it comes to underwater mortgages. It seems the waters of Hurricane Irma didn’t help.

Voting Rights For Felons

It’s being seen as a victory for voting rights in the state.

A federal judge this week gave Governor Rick Scott one month to create a new system for restoring the voting rights of felons who have served their time.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker sided with the Fair Elections Legal Network. The group sued the state last year over the constitutionality of Florida’s process for restoring voting rights.

Fair Elections Legal Network senior counsel Jon Sherman told our Tallahassee radio partner WFSU that the current system is arbitrary and without standards.

Judge Walker’s ruling should change that.

“He said that the changes they have to make to the voting restoration scheme have to be robust and meaningful; they have to be specific. He said they could no longer rely on discretion and subjective criteria,” said Sherman.

Florida is one of just four states that permanently take away a convicted felon’s right to vote. They have to apply to have their rights restored. Felons must wait five years after their sentence is completed to submit an application, and the state clemency board has to approve it.

Florida’s clemency board is made up of the governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner, and chief financial officer.

Judge Walker wrote that the clemency board cannot “rely on whims” in choosing who has their rights reinstated. He also says the state cannot withdraw the voting restoration process entirely.

“One of the things the states lawyers have suggested in the brief is that they could just have lifetime irrevocable voting ban for all felons,” said Sherman.

Governor Scott’s communications director issued a statement , “Officials elected by Floridians, not judges, have the authority to determine Florida’s clemency process for convicted felons. This is outlined in Florida’s Constitution…”

The statement went on to say that people who commit felonies “should demonstrate that they can live a life free of crime while being accountable to our communities.”

The state’s deadline for establishing a new voting rights restoration system is April 26.

The timing may become a campaign issue for Scott — he’s expected to announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate anytime now.

Dara Kam is with the News Service of Florida and Ryan Dailey, reporter with WFSU, joined us to discuss the issue.

Midterm Elections

The OpenSecrets blog reports that Florida may soon be ground zero for big spending in the midterm elections. The blog is run by the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks money in politics -- and its effect on elections and public policy.

The group says Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson has spent more than $3 million on a race where he is virtually unopposed – for now. Nelson has much more money in his coffers – with Republican Governor Rick Scott expected to announce soon that he’ll challenge Nelson. Scott tweeted that he’ll make a big announcement April 9th.

The Center for Responsive Politics checked with the Federal Election Commission and found that spending in Florida Senate races has jumped significantly since the year 2000 – and it was bigger than ever in 2016.

Those Senate races spent just over $19 million in the year 2000. In 2016, that number reached more than $110 million. That includes spending by the candidate as well as political action committees, known as PACs.

Dr. Sarah Bryner, Research Director at the Center for Responsive Politics and Brad Coker, a pollster with Mason–Dixon Polling & Research joined us to look at the spending.

Underwater Mortgages

The number of 90-day delinquent mortgages fell a fraction in Florida in February. However, a new report shows the state still leads the country in that category where it has held the top spot since December.

The report from Black Knight Data & Analytics suggests we’re still dealing with fallout from Hurricane Irma.

People living in the Florida Keys are still struggling to find affordable housing after Irma.

Patrick Garvey who lives near Big Pine Key talked with us. He bought a couple of acres five years ago. Now he’s living in a camper on the property while his wife and four-year-old twin daughters are staying in Brazil. The house they rented on Big Pine was destroyed - along with their income.

About 128,000 mortgage delinquencies in Florida, Georgia, and Texas are considered hurricane-related.

Lynn Drysdale joined us to discuss the problem. She’s a consumer protection attorney with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid