Governor signs Florida bill requiring felons to pay fines before allowed to vote
Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 7/2/2019, 10:23 a.m.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that requires people with felony convictions to pay off all their outstanding fees and fines before they would be allowed to vote, reports the Huffington Post. The amendment, which voters approved overwhelmingly in November, repealed Florida’s lifetime voting ban for people with felony convictions.
The measure allows those convicted of a felony, except for murder or sexual offenses, to vote once they “complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.” The change was estimated to affect up to 1.4 million people. It got rid of a policy rooted in the racism of the Jim Crow South. In January, the amendment officially went into effect and Floridians with felony convictions have been registering to vote. But Republican lawmakers, who control both chambers of the state legislature, argued that completing a criminal sentence should include repaying all financial obligations ordered as part of that sentence.
The legislature approved the new requirement in May. The law that DeSantis signed does allow people to petition a judge to waive their outstanding fines and fees. Critics say the law is akin to a poll tax. After DeSantis signed the bill, civil rights groups filed two federal lawsuits almost immediately on behalf of people with felony convictions ― some of whom have registered to vote. They said the restrictions on voting violated the 1st, 14th, 15th and 24th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits poll taxes. One suit also says the measure violates a clause of the Constitution that prohibits states from imposing laws that punish people retroactively.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the main group that pushed to pass the constitutional amendment, said in a statement it would work to help people be able to vote, despite the new restrictions. The group announced a donation-based fund to assist people with repaying fines and fees so they can vote.
“We are committed to operating under the law to register every one of the estimated 840,000 immediately eligible returning citizens in Florida. For the remaining 500,000, we will utilize the provisions of the legislation and generosity of our allies and extended FRRC family to provide relief for those facing financial barriers in completing their sentences,” said Desmond Meade, the group’s executive director