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Judge: Felons Having to Pay Up Before They Can Vote Doesn't Sit Well with Amendment 4 Voters

October 9, 2019 - 6:00am

A federal judge Monday said “it’s a no brainer” that the Florida Legislature’s requirement that ex-felons pay all financial obligations to be eligible to vote “harms the franchise” voters thought they’d restored when they approved Amendment 4 by more than 64 percent in November 2018.

Judge Robert Hinkle made the statement late in the first day of hearings in his U.S. Northern District of Florida courtroom in Tallahassee in a lawsuit challenging the 2019 implementing bill approved by state lawmakers that restricted restoration of voting rights under Amendment 4 only to felons who have paid any outstanding costs, fines, fees or restitution.

A coalition of civil- and voting-rights groups, led by the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education fund, argued the Legislature’s implementing bill signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis is unconstitutional and will leave most felons “disenfranchised.”

After November’s vote to restore felons’ voting rights, DeSantis said the constitutional amendment required an “implementing” bill.

During the ensuing session, Republican lawmakers installed a requirement that felons pay all fines, fees and restitution before being eligible to vote in Senate Bill 7066, claiming it was a concession sponsors agreed to when it was reviewed by the state’s Supreme Court.

Although SB 7066 allows felons to petition a judge to waive fees or fines, or convert them to community service hours, opponents argue including financial obligations, which for some can run into hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in restitution, is essentially a financial disqualification -- “a poll tax” -- for many low-income felons.

Following contentious hearings and capital protests, SB 7066 was adopted by the Senate in a 22-17 vote and by the House in a 67-42 tally. Both votes were strictly partisan, with Democrats in opposition.

Within days -- hours in two instances -- of DeSantis signing SB 7066, four lawsuits were filed claiming the bill violated the intent of ballot measure approved by voters.

The complaints were consolidated into one lawsuit before Hinkle’s court. Hearings began in August.

After Hinkle rejected the state’s motion to dismiss the case, he also rejected DeSantis’ and Lee’s request that he delay the federal proceedings until the Florida Supreme Court issues an advisory opinion on the case.

On Aug. 9, DeSantis submitted a request to the state’s Supreme Court to issue an advisory opinion on whether the state can legally require felons pay all court fines, fees and restitution before their voting rights are restored under Amendment 4.

On Aug. 28, all seven justices agreed. Briefs must be filed by Sept. 18 and responses were to be filed by Oct, 3. Oral argument are set for Nov. 6

However, in Hinkle’s court, the federal case will go on.

State attorneys Monday argued the plaintiffs are making a case for criminal justice reform more appropriately addressed by the Legislature, not the courts.

State attorneys reiterated their insistence that Amendment 4 requires former felons complete “all terms” of criminal sentences, not “some terms.”

The implementing bill allows ex-felons to request a waiver from the judge who sentenced them or convert their fines into community service, state attorneys argued, so there is no “irrevocable injury or harm” to citizens who can’t vote because they still owe a financial obligation.

University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith said projecting data from the Florida Department of Corrections and 48 clerks of court across the state, 542,207 people who had been charged with felony convictions have completed their sentences since November’s election.

Of those 542,207 people, Smith testified, an estimated 80 percent – more than 430,000 – have an outstanding financial legal obligations and/or restitution, ranging between $500 and $5,000.

During a noon Monday rally near the Florida Supreme Court building, Amendment 4 supporters demonstrated against the implementing bill.

“This law restricts the right to vote far beyond what any reasonable voter intended when they voted ‘yes’ for Amendment 4,” ACLU of Florida Deputy Director Melba Pearson told reporters. “This Legislature had every single opportunity over the past 150 years to reform Florida’s shameful lifetime of disenfranchisement, and they failed to do so.”

John Haughey is the Florida contributor to The Center Square.


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Another case of liberal insanity. Proof of the "give em an inch and they'll want a mile" leftist agenda. I suppose no one is liable for anything anymore.

MOST states do not have this ridiculous "Felons cannot vote" nonsense, like maybe 7-8 while the other 40+ states allow their felons to vote regardless of artificial barriers like restitution which is an arbitrary construct. If 40+ states allow it, then how is it insane? And who are you to decide what paying the price is? Who determines what factors allow a person to vote and not vote? Before Trump, Republicans may have been dumb, but thanks to Trump, Republicans can now be dumb and prideful about it "TRUMP IS THE MOST INTELLIGENT GOD TO EVER GRACE THE PLANET, ALSO 2+2=5" At least Bush's stupidity was humble stupidity.

"In proclaiming victory over the creation of Florida’s new "Jim Crow" constitution in 1872 (that contained among other things the felon disenfranchisement clause), republican lawmaker WJ Purman boasted he had prevented the state from being “niggerized”." In reality SB 7066 has nothing to do with paying back fines, fees, and restitution. In all these years, they were never collected before. Why now? SB 7066 has everything to do with keeping the fascist racist republicans in power by preventing African Americans from voting because they tend to vote democratic. End of story.

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Listen, everyone that is not a complete idiot knows this is, was, and continues to be a partisan way to keep people from voting who they believe will not vote for them. The people have spoken, so how can we manipulate this so these people will never be able to vote. Ahhh, make sure they have to pay back every single cent they owe to everyone even though they are penniless and will struggle for the rest of their days to be gainfully employed again as the system requires. No matter that the amendment that people voted for did not contain one word of those actions, we politicians no better than the voters. I don't think for a second that was the intent of the voters, but no matter as long as we silence those who will not support our corporate oligarchy agenda...

Felons aren't paying their "restitution",.. "Citizen Taxpayers" are; and soon will be, "ACROSS THE BOARD"!!! Florida is fast becoming a "Nanny State" !

Those fees and other amounts of money connected to a felon's sentence have NEVER been actively collected. It's always been nothing more than an added burden - it's own version of a 'scarlet letter' - always hanging over the head of a freed convict. Now, it is specifically serving Republicans as nothing more than a typical Jim Crow poll tax. Anything to suppress a vote that's liable to be Democratic. No self-respecting court will uphold it. YOUR stupidity, it's quite obvious you never lived through the "Jim Crow Era".

Which was a "Democrat Political Party" creation.

"Was" is the key word there dufus, those demographics changed sides 50 years ago dumbo...

We’re talking about the “Jim Crow Era”; I strongly suggest a “reading interpretation course” for you before you leave your Mom’s attic bedroom.

Must be a Know-Nothing Trumpite . . . . . . . who else comments on (and glorifies) their own comments multiple times . . . . or else is too dense that not only don't they know their own name, they also don't understand how to post comments on SSN . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . .

The only 2 things Tallahassee GOP hacks are good at (besides hoovering up campaign money): 1. Thwarting the will of Florida voters 2. Disenfranchising citizens of color Shame!

Amen! You got that right!

Paying a Debt to Society is just that PAYING A DEBT. This is not hard to figure out, nor racist. I do not believe felons should ever get the precious right to vote back, but if they must, they must make full restitution.

that's your right in our great country, but what your missing is nearly 70% of the voting public voted otherwise, and the will of the people should be viciously enforced, by any means necessary...

But you're overlooking a very important statistic. Approximately 90% of convicted felons polled stated that if they were to vote they would pull the lever for the Democrat candidate. This explains it all.


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