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Cerabino: Little tickets become big deal for some in Florida


Driving records are being used in Florida to deport some people and keep others from getting their voting rights restored.

Take what’s happening in Collier County these days. That Southwest Florida county was one of 37 in 16 states that partnered with the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement in something called the 287 (g) program, which trains and authorizes some local law enforcement officers “to perform certain functions of an immigration officer.”

The agreement put selected jailhouse deputies in the Collier County Sheriff’s Office through a four-week training program with the federal agency to help ICE single out county inmates for deportation.

So how has that been working out?

The county has started shipping dozens of inmates from its jail to the federal Krome Detention Center in Miami-Dade County. The Naples Daily News examined the cases of all those former county-jail inmates put on the path to deportation since President Donald Trump’s executive order calling for more deportations.

“Three-fourths of those cases alleged only misdemeanor traffic offenses, such as driving with no valid license, driving with an expired license or driving with a suspended license, according to arrest records,” the newspaper reported. “Only three were for alleged felonies, and charges in two of those cases were dropped, and reduced to a misdemeanor in the third, court records show.”

Hardly the “bad hombres” we’ve been hearing so much about.

The other group of Floridians who are finding out the drastic consequences of traffic infractions are ex-felons who have served their time and are trying to get their voting rights restored.

There are more than 1.68 million ex-felons in Florida who are eligible to have their voting rights restored, but have not had those rights restored. Or to put it another way, one of every four ex-felons yet to have his or her voting rights restored in America is a Floridian.

Florida, Kentucky and Iowa are the only three states that have established a lifetime ban on voting for all ex-felons, who can only restore their rights by petitioning for a hearing before the state’s Executive Clemency Board, which is composed of the governor, the state attorney general, the commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, and the state’s chief financial officer.

That’s in contrast to 14 states that automatically re-establishes voting rights as soon as the felon is released from prison. Twenty other states restore voting rights when the sentence, including probation is fulfilled. And Vermont and Maine allow felons to vote while in prison.

There was a modest flow of Florida’s ex-felons who had their voting rights restored under former Gov. Jeb Bush (73,508 restorations) and former Gov. Charlie Crist (155,315 restorations). But during the first six years that Gov. Rick Scott has run the clemency board, there has been just 2,488 restorations.

That trickle has led to a class-action lawsuit by a group of ex-felons who have complained that Scott and the clemency board are using traffic tickets as a reason to deny a restoration of voting rights.

“One of the most frequent reasons Governor Scott cites for rejecting an application for restoration of civil rights is a record of traffic or moving violations,” the lawsuit claims. “In these cases, Governor Scott usually states that speeding tickets, driving with a suspended license or other traffic violations are indicative of an unwillingness to abide by the law.

“That these are minor infractions, not felonies, and that the constitutionally-protected right to vote hangs in the balance does not deter Governor Scott and the other board members from denying an application on that basis.”

Traffic offenses, to a large extent, are crimes of poverty.

Poor people tend to drive old, broken down cars. When they receive a traffic infraction for a busted tail light or some other mechanical issue, or are cited for a moving violation, they don’t pay the fine, which can be a budget-busting amount of money to them.

The non-payment causes their driver licenses to be suspended. And when these drivers are stopped again, they end up in jail.

And for some, this has consequences that far outweigh the seriousness of their infractions, especially in Florida.



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