|Published:||Jul 08, 2010 11:35 PM EDT|
|Updated:||Jul 08, 2010 7:19 PM EDT|
LEE COUNTY, Fla.-- You're young, you do something stupid and get caught. More than a dozen years after doing the time, you have to wait to go back to work, all because of a government backlog. It's happening to one Southwest Florida man right now.
It was Jason Butts' dream to live and work in Florida.
"I was offered a position with a repossession company that was a pretty good paying job," he tells WINK. But one thing stood in his way.
In 1998 in his early 20's, Jason plead guilty in Tennessee to one count of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana. He served 6 months in jail.
"I was just young and stupid. It was a stupid thing. I was just, i was just a kid; that's what it boils down to. I made a mistake and I paid dearly for it and I'm still paying for it," Jason explains.
Putting the past behind him, Jason spent more than ten years running what he calls a successful repo business in Tennessee. Then he received an offer to work in the sunshine state.
"I was willing to give all that up for Florida, for the sun, the ocean and to get rid of some of the headaches of being an actual business owner," Jason recalls.
But in order to work in the repo business in Florida, you need a license. That's when Jason's bureaucratic nightmare began.
"I of course called the Department of Business and Licensing," Jason tells us. "And that's when they told me you'll have to go through the Office of Executive Clemency to have your civil rights restored."
Convicted felons lose their civil rights. Without those rights, they can't vote, sit on a jury or run for office; and in Florida, they can't get certain business licenses. To get your civil rights restored, you have to apply through the Office of Executive Clemency.
"I asked, of course, how long does the process generally take," Jason recalls. "And they said well, they were working, I think they said, 2006 right now or 2007, I can't remember. So I said, you're saying it could take three years and the lady told me, 'yes.' "
"We believe that we are doing an incredibly good job with the resources that we are given," Director of Communication for the Florida Parole Commission, Jane Tillman, explains.
Tillman says the enormous backlog of cases has nothing to do with her department's ability. It's a funding issue.
"Staffing and budget, money in the budget. Those are the two things everybody -- all state agencies are actually suffering from at the moment," Tillman tells us.
The numbers back her up. Our Call for Action team found documents that show when the state made the clemency process easier by allowing people to apply online or over the phone, more people started applying.
The number of applicants rose but funding for the Clemency Commission did not; in fact, the budget was cut 20-percent. The commission has not received any additional positions or funding since 2003. Right now, the Clemency Office currently has 80,000 pending civil rights cases. Jason is just one of them.
He says, "It's almost like your dream starts fading but you have to keep your head up and you have to keep going. It's tough, it's really tough."
A bill was introduced in the last legislative session to let people get a license even if their civil rights are not restored. It passed the State Senate but died in the Florida House of Representatives.
As far as how many other people are in Jason's shoes, no one can say. We checked with multiple state agencies and all told us that they don't keep those kind of records.