Our Vote! Our Voice! Our Vision!

A New Session. A New Season for Change.

Interior of the rotunda at the Florida State Capitol.

Hmmm. I can hear the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, singing in my inner ear….

Left the house this morning. Bells were ringing and filled the air. I was wearing the cross of my calling. On wheels of fire, I come rolling down here.

Come on up for the rising. Come on up, lay your hands in mine.

Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight.”

That’s the spirit of so many citizens in the state of Florida and around the nation as state legislatures open for their various legislative sessions for the year 2022.

Returning citizens and the directly impacted family members who love them are feeling a rising in their souls to pursue fresh bold initiatives that would bring real and lasting change to their lives and communities.

There’s a verbal rumbling in communities and a vision-inspired rising happening in the hearts and minds of returning citizens, the directly impacted, and supporters alike.

These men and women are standing up and out for the fundamentals of democracy.

Life. Liberty. The passionate pursuit of happy, whole, and healthy lives. For everyone. This rising is calling hundreds of returning citizens from across the state of Florida to make their voices heard in the Capitol. They aim to meet with lawmakers to advocate for policies that improve our communities by breaking down barriers to employment, housing, and democracy for returning citizens.

Who leads this movement forward? The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

Yes, the FRRC is ready for another opportunity to effectively influence the decision makers of Florida and our communities, with restoration in mind.

The FRRC is heading towards Tallahassee with one simple message:

It’s our vote, it’s our voice, and it’s our vision.

This is the year when we trumpet our vision: a vision that is built on the belief that our work will help create a better society for everyone in Florida. A vision that says when we break down barriers to employment or housing or democracy for returning citizens, everyone in our community benefits. It’s a big vision, and one we are excited to bring to Tallahassee during this year’s legislative session.

The FRRC 2022 Legislative Priorities address critical issues in four primary areas — democracy, jobs, housing, and narrative change — to spur on an impassioned pursuit of change in the state of Florida.

Our Vote!

FRRC Democracy Initiative

Like many other democracy-loving citizens in Florida, the FRRC is alarmed and appalled by the efforts of some lawmakers and even the executive branch who propose undue and unnecessary legislation that would make voting even more difficult for the citizens of our state. The bill(s) would establish an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Florida Department of State to investigate election crimes and fraud.

It aims to halt what is called “ballot harvesting” — the practice of groups or organizations collecting and turning in individual voters’ completed election ballots — and would elevate the crime of collecting someone else’s completed ballot on their behalf to a third-degree felony rather than a misdemeanor. Local Supervisors of Elections would be required to clean voter rolls of ineligible voters within specified timeframes. Alas! The bill would prohibit drop boxes in Florida.

Nevertheless, FRRC has a democracy initiative of its own. A coalition vision to see $1 million in funding slated to go to the Department of State specifically used to create a system for determining fines and fees amounts and voter eligibility under Amendment 4, which gave 1.4 million returning citizens a pathway to getting their voting rights back.

As it stands right now, the state of Florida doesn’t have a unified system for determining whether a person with a past felony conviction has actually paid off their criminal legal debt and is indeed eligible to vote. That’s a hindrance, not a help. The FRRC wants to see the judicial program strengthened, assurances created for returning citizen voters, and an automated system established, instead of the current dreadfully slow one-person-at-a-time approach.

Our Voice!

FRRC is raising our voice for the weakened among us who need to be unburdened of the harsh and oftentimes unfair restrictions placed on returning citizens despite their efforts to re-establish themselves in life and keep the threat of recidivating at bay.

We say, “Let My People Work!”

FRRC Jobs Bill

Returning citizens who desire to work in their fields of strength or want to start a small business can’t because the area in which they desire to prosper sometimes requires an occupational license that they cannot obtain.

Florida Senate Bill 1548 and House Bill 1259 (sponsored by Republican lawmakers Sen. Keith Perry, representing Alachua, Putnam, and part of Marion counties, and Rep. Spencer Roach, representing parts of Lee County, respectively) are solid jobs bills that would prohibit Florida occupational licensing boards from denying an applicant’s license application due to their criminal history unless certain conditions are met. Presently, licensing boards can deny returning citizens applying for licenses for certain occupations if they have a conviction within the last 5 years — even if the conviction is unrelated to the occupation. Meanwhile, one in 4 jobs requires a license.

The bills would say the state must wait to inquire about an applicant’s criminal record until after the board has determined the applicant is already qualified for the license, so applicants are assessed for their qualifications first. An applicant wouldn’t be denied licensure due to their record, even if directly related to the position, if the applicant can show they’ve rehabilitated and can perform the duties of the job.

We say, “Let My People Rent!”

FRRC Housing Bill

Housing is an absolute necessity for successful reentry. Returning citizens with stable housing are 2 times less likely to reoffend. Yet, landlords are less willing to rent to returning citizens because of unsubstantiated concerns about liability. Florida Senate Bill 1732 would remove that perceived barrier for landlords and returning citizens alike by giving landlords broader protection from liability if they rent to someone with a past criminal record. This bill is sponsored by Senator Randolph Bracy (D), representing parts of Orange County.

We say, “Let My People Live!”

FRRC Narrative Change Bill

Major, established employers like the University of Florida and the state Department of Transportation have turned to people in prison for labor, as have dozens of nonprofits and other schools. Yet many of these companies and organizations do not hire or even consider the same returning citizens once they have been released from prison and are looking for a job. Florida Senate Bill 1862 would require employers that use prison labor to adopt second-chance employment policies, banning the box on job applications and giving returning citizens a fair shot.

More specifically, this bill, also known as the Desmond Meade Bill, would require that any entity that contracts with the Florida Department of Corrections for prison labor cannot exclude a person from consideration for employment or disqualify them from a job because of their criminal record unless certain conditions are met. The bill would also require these entities to delay all inquiries into an applicant’s criminal record until after a conditional offer of employment. Senator Randolph Bracy is the sponsor.

Our Vision!

FRRC’s vision and platform for change extends beyond our bills. Returning citizens, their families, and a growing number of supporters are joining the coalition of everyday people who envision a better world for everyone. When our youth can come through juvenile diversion programs for misdemeanors and non-forcible felonies — often committed out of immaturity and peer pressure — with a clean slate, our vision is coming to fruition. Everyone benefits when young people have a second chance, giving them a better shot at success in employment and education.

When returning citizens who are honestly trying to pay their fines and fees but continue to punitively lose their driving privileges because they haven’t or can’t pay — only exacerbating their financial challenges — are given a lifeline by courts modifying their criminal justice debts, our vision is coming to fruition. By allowing courts to waive, modify, or convert those fines to community service when a person is honestly unable to pay, we can provide people with a means to fulfill their legal financial obligations without simultaneously hampering their ability to get to work or care for their loved ones.

When returning citizens who have been weakened by barriers to democracy, employment, fair-chance housing, and restrictions to a restored life are strengthened, we all win.

The vision of FRRC is to see a better world for everyone. If you can see it, believe we can achieve it together, and are ready to join us…

Come on up for the rising.

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The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is committed to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions

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Chasman Barnes

Chasman Barnes

Chasman is a Policy Professional, Advocate for Returning Citizens in Criminal and Social Justice Reform, TEDx Speaker, and sought after Communicator.

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