ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida House is moving on a measure to restore the voting rights of felons, but supporters of Amendment 4 say that the bill lawmakers are pushing through ignores the will of voters.
- Florida House bill for Amendment 4 puts some rules in place
- Bill requires felons to pay all fees, fines before being able to vote
- Voting-rights advocate says it's not in the spirit of what voters OK'd
More than 60 percent of Florida voters approved the constitutional amendment last year, which restores the right to vote to most nonviolent felons when they leave prison.
This week, the state House passed Amendment 4 — but put some rules in place, including requiring felons to pay all fines and fees before actually getting their voting rights restored.
Desmond Meade, the executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, says this ignores the will of voters and that the language is clear.
“It strays away from what voters intended and when they voted for Amendment 4," he said.
Opponents have compared the financial requirement of the House-passed bill to a sort of Jim Crow-era poll tax, the Associated Press says.
"When you start delving into all kinds of fees and avenues which the Department of Corrections and other agencies can add fees on top of that, that becomes problematic, and it strays away from what voters intended when they voted for Amendment 4," said Meade, the Orlando voting-rights advocate who was recently named in Time magazine's 100 most influential people.
But Republican lawmakers in the Florida House say a sentence includes not just time in prison and probation, but paying back fines and fees beyond restitution.
“The key component is restitution," said State Rep. Will Robinson Jr., a Republican whose District 71 includes parts of Manatee and Sarasota counties, in a floor speech in Tallahassee. "Let’s not forget here what restitution means. It’s payment for a victim to a victim for harm caused, to try to make the victims whole.”
The amendment does not include people convicted of severe crimes such as murder or sexual offense.
“People knew exactly what they were voting for, and what people were voting for was redemption, restoration. They were voting for love, they were voting for forgiveness," Meade said.
The Florida Senate is expected to take up the issue next week.