The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU of Florida) has taken a public stance on a number of the constitutional amendments Floridians are supposed to vote on in November.
This year there will be a list of 12 amendments on the ballot making it the most proposed constitutional changes since 1998. One of the amendments that has gotten the attention of the Florida governor is Amendment Four, known as the voter restoration amendment. It gives convicted felons who served their time, except felons of sex crimes and homicides voting rights. Gov. Rick Scott has made statements opposing the measure saying, “If you are a convicted felon part of what you did is you lose your rights and there ought to be a process to get those rights back. I think it is fair to the rest of the citizens of the state.”
On Sunday, Sept. 23 the ACLU of Florida and Greater Miami Chapter will be hosting a panel discussion about the 12 ballot amendments at the Palmetto Branch Public Library. Melba Pearson, Deputy Director for the ACLU of Florida joined Sundial to break down some of the confusion surrounding the amendments and explain the ACLU's stance on them.
WLRN: What do you think about Gov. Rick Scott's take on and stance on the amendment [four]?
Pearson: I wholeheartedly disagree because it doesn't make our communities any safer. Let's look at what voting entails: It gives you the ability to have a say on your roads, on who is going to be on your school board to help educate your kids and who is going to be trying to get funding for your neighborhood. These are all important things that have to do with the communities people live in and if you take away people's right to vote and say 'you can never be fully engaged in the community,' how are you encouraging them to reintegrate and be part of said community?
Amendment six is known as "Marcy's Law." There is two part to this. Part of Amendment six is about raising the age of retirement for judges from 70 to 75 and the other part has to do with victims rights in crimes. Does the ACLU oppose the whole amendment or just the victim's rights part of it?
We're talking about the misnamed victims rights part of it. I'm a former prosecutor. I was a prosecutor in Miami for 16 years. I am well versed on victims rights. The Florida Constitution as it stands right now has a very robust victims rights section: Victims have the right to be heard, victims have the right to be present in all stages of the proceedings whether it be the filing of charges, arraignment, trial as well as sentencing. They have the right to be informed on what is happening with the case. This constitutional [amendment] gives corporations the same footing as human victims. In other words, you can now have corporations coming into criminal proceedings with high priced lawyers trying to dictate how the criminal justice process should go.
Amendment 11 covers quite a few things. It repeals the state's ability to prohibit non-citizens from buying, owning, or selling property, it deals with how we prosecute people under outdated laws and it also has a provision that deals with obsolete language about high-speed rail. What's the ACLU stance on this amendment?
Note: Amendment 11 is still in court and being challenged.
We support this amendment for several reasons. Number one, the language about someone who is not a citizen not being able to own or sell property is racist. It says "an alien" and that's racist. The second aspect is, let's say, for example, we pass a full legalization of marijuana in the state of Florida. This as a hypothetical -- that from today forward you cannot be arrested for possession of a certain amount of marijuana. But what about all the people who are now currently sitting in jail for that marijuana charge that is now legal? Shouldn't they be released from jail and have that removed from their record because this is no longer a crime? This amendment would allow that statute to apply retroactively to people who are affected.