The Republican-controlled Florida House passed a bill Wednesday that would restore voting rights for ex-felons on the condition that they first pay all fees, fines and court costs before they can head to the polls.
While Republicans say the fees are part of an ex-felon’s sentence and are thus obligatory, Democrats and opponents of the bill argue that the measure disenfranchises felons from voting and ignores the will of over 5 million Floridians who supported the statewide referendum.
In November, Florida voters approved Amendment 4 to their state’s constitution, allowing convicted felons who complete all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation, the right to vote, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.
The House bill defines “completion of all terms of sentence” to include the payment of all fines, fees and court costs “regardless of whether such financial obligation is continued through a civil judgment.” The Voting Rights Restoration also defines which crimes count as felony sexual offenses and murder.
The Voting Rights Restoration bill, HB 7089, passed the GOP-led House in a 71-45 vote Wednesday night.
Before the vote Wednesday, Republican state Rep. James Grant, the bill’s author, said on the House floor that this “bill does not disenfranchise anybody.”
“The affected class disenfranchised themselves when they committed a crime,” Grant said.
Democratic state Rep. Dianne Hart, however, said the bill was an “overreach” that would restrict voting for felons that would have their right to vote restored with passage of Amendment 4.
“I firmly believe we’re taking away the will of the 5-million-plus ‘yes’ voters,” Hart said Wednesday.
The Florida legislature has a little more than a week left before the legislative session ends on May 3.
A companion bill in the Florida Senate was approved by the Senate Rules Committee, 11-6, on Tuesday night. It would require payment of restitution regardless of whether it’s converted to a civil lien. The bill has yet to be brought before the full Florida Senate.
Neil Volz, the political director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, one of the authors of Amendment 4, said in a statement Tuesday that the Senate’s bill “better reflects the spirit of Amendment 4 and hope that Republicans and Democrats can come together to produce a bipartisan bill that aligns with the will of Florida’s voters.”
Volz also slammed the House vote as a “failure to live up to the bipartisan commitment Florida voters showed.”