Florida Legislators Advance Unconstitutional Bill to Significantly Limit the Ability for Ex-Felons to Vote
In continuation of their attempts to stall the restoration of voting rights to ex-felons, as was the will of a majority of Floridians, on March 19, Florida legislators advanced a bill to further solidify this hurdle by requiring former felons to pay all court fees and fines before they can register to vote and for any and all affected victims and/or organizations to whom fees were owed to provide “consent” before these individuals could register to vote. The move is clearly indicative of an intention to defy the will of state voters; with some even calling it a “poll tax.” The bill is most likely to negatively affect (and continue to deny the civil rights of) low-income ex-felons and those who served time for property crimes and thus owe large sums of restitution as a result.
Legislation Worded to Bar as Many Qualified Voters as Possible
In November, state voters passed Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million felons once that they had completed all terms of their sentence–including parole or probation–as long as they had not been convicted of murder or “sexual offenses.” There has since been significant confusion as to what, exactly, is covered under “sexual offenses”” and, in fact, the bill recently advanced also includes a number of felonies as qualifying under this exemption, such as individuals who have, for example, served tie for having adult entertainment stores located too close to a school robbed of the ability to vote. Legislators effectively worded the legislation so as to exclude as many qualified voters as they could.
The legislation advanced unquestionably violates Amendment 4, which required “automatic” restoration of voting rights to felons who had completed their sentences. Those who advocated for the legislation claim that these fees and fines are part of the “sentence” referred to in the Amendment. Prior to the passage of Amendment 4, applicants who had already served their time had to wait between five to seven years to even apply to register to vote. The clemency process itself was also incredibly arduous, and controlled by a panel of the few—including the previous Florida governor—which rarely restored the right to vote to these applicants.
Contact Our Florida Civil Rights Attorneys to Find Out More
Civil rights advocates are now working hard to ensure that changes can be made to the bill before it advances to the next legislative committee for review. Still, due to what, exactly, state voters passed in November, no legislation that limits or infringes upon the rights of the voters would be acceptable.
If you live in Florida and your civil rights have been infringed upon, contact our experienced civil rights attorneys at the Baez Law Firm today to find out how we can help.