Florida Senator and Presidential candidate Marco Rubio can’t get a break. He is being slammed for missing Senate floor votes, scorned for poor poll showings (and weak campaign organizations) in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and mocked for his tendency to flip-flop on issues. In November, Mother Jones magazine reported that conservative activist Clyde Fabretti, is one of the Rubio campaign “representatives” in Orlando, Florida. Fabretti happens to be a convicted white collar criminal with a history of financial chicanery and perhaps voter fraud. And a December 30 article in the Washington Post revealed that Rubio helped his brother in law, Orlando Cicilia, get a real estate license although such licenses were not routinely granted to felons.

Rubio cut corners in urging state regulators to give Cicilia a break. His recommendation for Cilicia, was unlikely to be turned down because he was majority whip of the Florida House of Representatives at the time. But his strong recommendation failed to note that he was supporting a family member who served more than a decade for trafficking cocaine. Thus, Cicilia got a break that thousands of felons don’t have access to.

Rubio’s intervention for his brother-in-law, who has apparently done well with real estate since he got his license in 2002, is an intervention that other felons might benefit from. This is especially relevant in a state like Florida where, in 2010, more than 12 percent of the adult population, and 35 percent of the African American population has been convicted of a felony. These felons cannot vote, and are frequently excluded from participation in occupations that require licensures.

Subuk Hasnain, writing for the Chicago Reporter a year ago, listed about 100 occupations that exclude felon participation. These include movers, sign language interpreters, dieticians, architects, roofers, and barbers. It is not clear why felon status would prevent someone who is properly trained, from participating in some of these occupations. Instead it is a way to marginalize felons and block them from the second chance they are entitled to. Having “done the time” for crimes they have committed, laws that prevent their full occupational participation suggests that they are required to pay more than time served.

Recent attention to the criminal justice system will, perhaps, motivate a review of the many ways felons are burdened, especially in the job markets. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) is one of the organizations that advocate a fair chance for returning felons through “ban the box” legislation that prevents employers from asking questions about criminal record on employment applications.

(http://www.nelp.org/publication/the-fair-chance-ban-the-box-toolkit). According to NELP, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has endorsed removing the conviction question on job applications, and the Obama Administration’s My Brother’s Keep Task Force has urged hiring practices that give applicants a fair chance at employment. Nineteen states have outlawed questions about criminal records on job applications in the private sector. Not surprisingly, Florida is not one of these states.

If Senator Marco Rubio bothered to attend Senate sessions, he might advocate for the reform that is needed to ensure than other felons have the same opportunity that his brother-in-law had when he urged Florida’s Division of Real Estate to give him a real estate license (felons in Florida are considered on a “case-by-case” basis for a license and must provide character references; a reference from a powerful politician couldn’t hurt an applicant). If he believed in second chances, he might incorporate issues of criminal justice reform into his campaign rhetoric. Instead of defensively dodging questions about favoritism for his relative, he might use the Washington Post “expose” to suggest that others deserve the same kind of break as Cicilia. Rubio clearly believes in second chances when he chooses to use a convicted felon, Clyde Fabretti, as a campaign representative. What about the tens of thousands in Florida who won’t offer them a similar opportunity?

If Senator Rubio won’t use the Washington Post article to illustrate his commitment to second chances, perhaps advocates like NELP can use the Cicilia and Fabretti cases to advance their very important work. And perhaps our civil rights organizations can continue to work to “ban the box” on job applications. With employment, ex-offenders are far more likely to be productively engaged in their communities. Without employment, their continued marginalization can have no positive consequences.

Which felons deserve a second chance? Marco Rubio’s willingness to provide that chance for his brother-in-law, and for a convicted felon who has a leadership role in his campaign, suggests that he understands the importance of second chances. Too bad he hasn’t advocated for others to get the same kind of chances that Orlando Cicilia and Clyde Fabretti got.

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© 2017 by Dr. J. Malveaux