A Florida House panel this week approved a bill that would require forms to pay fees and fines before having their rights restored, prompting criticism from those who say it would undermine a vote again
Supporters of the bill, approved by the Republican-controlled House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice on Tuesday, contend that it was merely to resolve questions about how to put Amendment 4, which voted in November, into practice.
But the rights would be unfairly punishable by those who are able to pay and undermine the central objective of the amendment: permanently disenfranchisement.
Since the amendment took effect in January, it has caused some confusion. It did not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, and questions about which crimes should be counted in those categories. More contentious is the financial issue: Would felons be required to pay for their sentence to be pronounced? completed? ”
The bill, which would also clarify the relevant offenses, passed the subcommittee by a vote of 10 to 5, split along lines, with the Democrats opposed.
The financial question led a Democratic opponent of the bill, Representative Adam Hattersley, to label it "blatantly unconstitutional as a poll tax," a reference to the fees used to keep African-Americans from voting in the South starting in the 1890s. (Granted by Gridians with felony convictions are white.) Representative James Grant, a Republican and the subcommittee's chairman, who sponsored the bill, disputed that characterization, saying it diminishes The atrocity of what a poll tax was actually, "The Miami Herald reported. Mr. Grant did not immediately return a call for comment on Wednesday.
Mr. Grant has said that the goal of the bill is to establish a uniform set of criteria to determine who is legally eligible to vote, and that the language reflects what lawyers said while explaining the ballot question language to the state's Supreme Court. 19659002] Politico reported Tuesday that the measure was expected to move easily through the House, and that the Senate was its own bill containing "guidance" on how the amendment should put into effect. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans. Gov. Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, is the amendment and has voiced support for its implementation.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which led the amendment, said it was billed because it would broaden the definition of " completion of sentence was previously established by the state's Clemency Board, among other groups.
“We are hopeful that improvements can be made to this bipartisan support before the moves to the next committee,” Desmond Meade, President of the coalition, said in a statement. "Amendment 4 passed with broad support from people all over the state and from all walks of life," he sat. "Any legislation proposed should not limit the rights created by Amendment 4 nor upon the will of Florida voters." The matter is particularly pernicious in Florida because of the state's rigid rules on fines and fees, said Ashley Thomas, the Florida director of the non-profit Fines and Fees Justice Center
Almost no waivers are granted to the indigent, she said. Fines and feasts can rise quickly with late penalties, and can be sent to private collection agencies that add their own hefty surcharges. A 2010 report by the Brennan Center on the Florida court's reliance on fees noted that observers had coined a term for it: "cash register justice."
Julie Ebenstein, a lawyer with the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized the bill as “truly untethered to the text of the amendment.”
“What this will do, an effect, is franchise people who can't afford to pay all of these bonds,” she said.
Both the Brennan Center and the ACLU Acting as consultants to the coalition in drafting Amendment 4, they said.
Phil Telfeyan, executive director of the nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law, which focuses on economic discrimination, said his organization was filing a lawsuit challenging the Florida bill. 19659002] People who have recently been released from prison often already face many financial challenges, having been out of work force and having to rebuild their lives,
"The Legislature is essentially punishing poverty," Mr. Telfeyan said.