ACLU of Florida Challenges Brevard County's Denial of Federal Energy Conservation Funding to Former Felons
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MIAMI – Brevard County violated federal law by preventing a low-income resident from participating in an energy conservation program solely because he had a prior felony conviction, charged the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in a lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court in Orlando.
“This is just more posturing by Florida politicians to look tough on crime and on people with past felony convictions,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “What does denying funds to low-income people to save on energy costs have to do with fighting crime?”
The federal Energy Conservation and Production Act provides financial assistance to low-income persons to encourage home energy conservation measures. The U.S. Department of Energy mandates that qualification for assistance is based solely upon income. Florida receives federal grants and awards funds to subgrantees throughout the state, including Brevard County, to provide low-income families with weatherization services to make their homes more energy efficient.
However, the ACLU said that Raymond Houston, who met all necessary qualifications, was refused assistance because of a past felony conviction. The lawsuit was filed after repeated attempts by representatives of the ACLU and Houston to urge Brevard County officials to comply with the provisions governing the federal grant program.
State officials also warned Brevard Commissioners that they had no authority to unilaterally alter federal grant guidelines. In a letter dated August 22, 2005, the Florida Department of Community Affairs, which oversees the federal grants, informed Brevard County that “a local provider may not add eligibility requirements which are more restrictive than the federal regulations.”
The ACLU of Florida complaint charges that Brevard County violated federal law by adopting additional requirements for weatherization assistance. That policy defines an “ineligible applicant” to be:
Any person who must register with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement . . . as a person convicted of a felony in any court of this state or any person who has been convicted in a federal court or in any court of a state other than Florida or in any foreign state or country, which crime, if committed in Florida, would be a felony; or Any person listed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as a sexual predator or a sexual offender..
Brevard County also requires that “if any household member is a convicted felon, he or she must have his or her Civil Rights restored or must have been pardoned in order to receive assistance.”
“No one in Brevard County is made any safer by the County Commission’s vindictive policy to deny weatherization assistance to people with felony convictions,” said Glenn Pinfield, President of the Brevard County Chapter of the ACLU of Florida.
Houston is represented by ACLU of Florida Legal Director Randall Marshall and ACLU of Florida cooperating attorney Howard Marks of Orlando.
The complaint in Raymond Houston v. Brevard County is available online at http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/Brevard_Complaint.pdf.
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