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North Miami Beach council urges state to restore civil rights to ex-felons

In a symbolic act, intended to send a message to the Florida legislature, North Miami Beach council members have passed a resolution that calls for the automatic restoration of voting rights for people who have served out their sentences for felonies.

“It’s significant that the first city to pass this in Florida had such a diverse council,” said Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. The coalition represents more than 60 local, state and national community organizations on criminal justice issues.

“In this political climate, to have a Cuban-American Republican mayor, a Jewish Democrat, Christians, a Haitian-American, black and white council members, come together and support this — is a very hopeful sign, ” said Meade.

The resolution passed unanimously Tuesday night, with Councilwoman Marlen Martell absent. Mayor George Vallejo said it was one battle of restoring rights he was very happy to support.

The resolution, which urges the repeal of all legislation that denies voting rights for former felons will be sent to the governor and state Legislature. North Miami Beach Councilwoman Barbara Kramer, who sponsored the resolution, said she will seek support from the Florida and Miami League of Cities to encourage more cities to pass similar resolutions.

“I can’t imagine any pushback from the cities of South Florida,” said Kramer. “It’s so important.”

Florida is one of a handful of states in which former prisoners don’t get their right to vote restored automatically after completing their sentences.

Instead, they must apply to Florida Clemency Board only after all sentences and supervision periods have been completed; restitution is paid in full, and all waiting periods have been met. Once those criteria have been met then there is another waiting period of five or seven years before the person can apply to have their civil rights restored.

Kramer said Florida’s harsh law is illogical and bad for the community.

“We need to restore people back into the community,” Kramer said. “They can’t vote. Many are having a hard time finding places to live because of their backgrounds. I think it is important to also bring back that tax base.”

Supporters said this resolution is the first political step to make the restoration of voting rights a major agenda item in the 2014 state elections.

“With other cities, along with faith-based organizations and families of those individuals impacted, we will use that platform as a springboard that would lead to a constitutional amendment in 2016,” said Meade.

Meade, a third-year law student at Florida International University, said he will stay in Florida even though as former prisoner won’t be able to practice law in the state.

“Going to another state reminds me of the days of slavery when all a man had to do is cross a border to get freedom,” he said. “I’m not leaving Florida.”

In other news, the City Council approved an ordinance on second and final reading to allow further study of current water rates. The last water-rate study was seven years ago. Previously, water and sewer service rates rose automatically as a result of public inflation rate adjustments and a 10-percent-per-year rate increase from 2007-2011. But two years ago, water rates were frozen due to the declining economy.

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