Florida voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of Amendment 4, which allows former felons the opportunity to regain their voting rights upon completion of their sentence in the fall of 2018. Now, as state legislators begin to discuss the implementation process, a conflict has arisen over what exactly the amendment means when it says felons must have completed, “all terms of their sentence.”
Kirk Bailey, Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union political director, stated in a press release that to claim “all terms of their sentence” should include court fines and fees ignores the wishes of Florida voters.
“This bill sets out to undermine the will of Florida voters by passing legislation that would severely restrict the right to vote for 1.4 million Floridians who just had their rights restored after the passage of Amendment 4,” Bailey said.
Radio station WLRN South Florida reported that it was actually the co-author of this bill, former Democratic Florida Speaker of the House Jon Mills who specified that “all terms of their sentence” means court fines and fees as well as jail time.
Initially, the amendment received the support of organizations such as the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and The American Civil Liberties Union.
Public figure and congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez commented on the proposed changes to amendment 4 in a tweet.
“A poll tax by any other name…” Cortez tweeted.
Along with her comment, she retweeted a post from the account @ajplus, who blamed the Republican-controlled committee for the apparent injustice.
Florida’s court system differs from the majority of other states because it funds itself in part by fines and fees collected, not from tax revenue. Last month, there was a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that highlighted the unconstitutionality of excessive fines enforced by governing bodies. According to the opinion of the court, delivered by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, if deemed excessive, these fines and fees could become a violation to the 8th Amendment.
Regardless of the bill’s conjectured legal future, there are serious concerns from Floridians as to the impact changes to SB 7086, or Amendment 4, will have on the former felons returning to citizenship in the state of Florida.
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida West Palm Beach Chapter President Mark Schneider shared his predictions for the impact of SB7086.
“Inclusion of these civil liens and monetary obligations that are not a part of the judge’s sentence will prevent many Floridians from regaining the right to vote,” Schneider said.
He also commented on the expansion of types of felons who would be ineligible for the benefits of this bill.
“The bill also attempts to broaden the definition of murder and felony sex offenses, which Amendment 4 ‘carved out’ from the felonies for which one lost the right to vote, so that more returning citizens will be prevented from voting.”
Sponsors submitted the bill for consideration by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, and members voted SB 7086 favorably to the Senate floor by majority.
By Jessica Lykins