On November 6, 2018 Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment which automatically restores the right to vote to 1.4 million individuals with felony convictions. Amendment 4 (Initiative Information) restores the right to vote for people with felony convictions upon completion of the terms of their sentence, including probation and parole. The amendment does not apply to individuals convicted of murder or felony sexual offense. The amendment went into effect on January 8, 2019. It was a popular and overwhelmingly successful amendment.
But, the new amendment is threatened with politics, policy and certain limitations. Florida House of Representatives voted to advance a new bill (HB 7089) that would block certain convicted felons from their right to vote. ( Florida House of Representatives – Documents The House Bill 7089 would require felons who have completed their jail terms to pay all fines and fees associated with their case BEFORE regaining the right to vote. Basically, if you are Florida felon and have completed your jail time you have to pay all your fees and court costs before your right to vote is restored.
What does this really mean to Florida felons? Essentially, Florida is a state that maintains more than 115 different types of fines, fees and surcharges which can be assessed against defendants in court cases, including those involving traffic violations, according to an analysis by the Fines and Fees Justice Center, based in New York. That’s the second-largest number of fines, fees and surcharges assessed anywhere in the country.
Florida Lawmakers who support this new bill say they are simply clarifying what the Amendment actually means by clearly defining that an individual completes their terms of probation or parole when all their fines and fees that have been assessed by the court are paid off. Opponents argue that this essentially blocks most individuals from restoring their right to vote because most felons coming straight out of jail are not able to pay back all their fines and fees.
The bill was supposed to go to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk to decide whether to sign the bill, let it become law, or issue a veto. Gov. Desantis would have signed this bill and made it law, however the bill passed in the House but did not receive a vote in the Senate. The bill failed to pass in the Senate before the legislature adjourned on May 3, 2019.
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