Read time: 3 minutes

Florida GOP To Blow Up Felon Voting Rights By Requiring Court Cost Payment

It was a big deal when Florida voters approved an amendment restoring voting rights to felons who complete their sentence. We should have known Republicans couldn't stand for it.

I vowed years ago that I wouldn't visit Florida again unless they voted to put Democrats back in control. But despite being on the front lines of climate change, Florida voters continue to put Republicans in control. While I wouldn't dream of going to Disney World, I do have friends and family in the state and it would be nice to visit. Now, here's yet another reason to boycott the state's tourist industry -- they're going to make felon voting rights essentially useless. Via Slate:

Shortly after the 2018 election, it became clear that Republican lawmakers would attempt to undermine Amendment 4. By its own terms, the law is self-executing; it requires no implementation by the Legislature. Floridians who have completed a sentence for a felony conviction should now be permitted to vote, so long as they did not commit homicide or a sex offense. Yet GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis (who opposed the amendment) and his allies in the Legislature quickly asserted that it is not self-executing and requires “implementing language.” That’s not true, but it allowed Republicans to curtail the amendment’s impact under the guise of “implementing” it. Since November, the key question was how brazenly GOP lawmakers would seek to subvert the amendment: Would they tinker around the edges, or gut the law entirely?

We learned the answer on Tuesday, when the House of Representatives’ Criminal Justice Subcommittee passed a bill designed to sabotage Amendment 4. The amendment unambiguously declares that “voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” But the new bill adds a new hurdle: Felons may not register to vote until they’ve paid all court costs, fines, and fees associated with their sentences.

To understand why this provision is a poison pill, it’s important to understand the system of “cash-register justice” practiced by Florida and many other states. To finance its criminal justice system, Florida imposes both fines and “user fees” on defendants upon conviction. Individuals may be fined up to $500,000 for their crime, then saddled with a mind-boggling array of administrative fees. Defendants must pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to fund court costs, “crime prevention” programs, and local jails. They must pay a fee to apply for a public defender, to receive medical treatment in prison, to reinstate a suspended driver’s license, and to participate in drug abuse treatment. Those who receive probation must pay “surcharges” to fund their supervision or room-and-board at a halfway house, as well as electronic monitoring and urinalysis.


↓ Story continues below ↓

They know indigent people can't pay these fines. Miami-Dade County reports more than $278 million in outstanding court fines, and $195.8 million in Palm Beach County, which charges interest on court debt. Just to make it worse, Florida law allows private debt collectors to charge a commission of 25 to 40 percent of the fine.

And of course the collection agencies hire lobbyists to keep this system in place.

I've said it before and I say it again: Republicans are profoundly anti-democratic. That's why they're so creative in finding new ways to keep likely Democrats from voting.

More C&L Coverage

Comments

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service (revised 3/17/2016) for information on our posting policy.