Florida Republicans Advance Bill That Would Sharply Limit Restoration of Voting Rights to Felony Offenders

A Florida House committee advanced a bill that would require people with felony records to pay off their court debts before they could regain the right to vote.



Last November Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million people with felony records. It was the largest single expansion of the franchise in decades—in a critical swing state, no less—but a bill moving through the Florida Legislature would sharply limit its scope.

A Florida House committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would require felony offenders to pay off court debts before they could regain the right to vote. It would also expand the number of crimes for which one would remain ineligible to vote.

Civil liberties groups and supporters of Amendment 4, however, say that such an imposition will effectively amount to a poll tax.

Many U.S. states have tacked on dozens of various fees and fines over the decades to fund their judicial systems, and Florida has been one of the most prolific. For example, the Fines & Fees Justice Center found that Florida courts, which are funded almost entirely through fines and fees, had "115 different types of fees and surcharges, the second highest number in the country."

As a result, WLRN reported, Florida residents would have to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars to restore their voting rights. The outlet found that, "Across the state, over $1 billion in felony fines were issued between 2013 and 2018 alone, according to annual reports from the Florida Clerks and Comptrollers, a statewide association. Over that five year period, an average of only 19 percent of that money was paid back per year."

In a press release Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida said the proposed bill "will inevitably prevent individuals from voting based on the size of one's bank account."

"This is exactly what we were worried about from the beginning—legislative attempts to undermine the will of the people who voted for second chances and to rid Florida of the last vestiges of its Jim Crow era past," said Kirk Bailey, the Florida ACLU's political director.

Florida voters passed Amendment 4 by a resounding 64 percent. Until then, Florida had maintained the toughest felon disenfranchisement laws in the country. While organizers hailed the amendment's passage as a historic success, debate immediately began over how it would be carried out.

After the passage of Amendment 4, civil liberties groups and other supporters said it was clearly self-implementing. All former felony offenders who completed their sentences had to do was show up at their county office and register. In early January, the new law went into effect, and thousands of Floridians did just that.

However, Florida Republicans and GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis' office said it was unclear from the text of the amendment exactly who qualified. What counted as completion of sentence? Did that include parole and court fees?

The Miami Herald reported that the House bill specifically would:

Require ex-felons pay all court fees and fines before being eligible, even if those fees are not imposed by a judge.

Require the Department of Corrections to notify each inmate of his or her obligations before being released.

Define "felony sexual offenses" to include a wide array of crimes, including prostitution and placing an adult entertainment store within 2,500 feet of a school.

Require the Secretary of State to set up a process for determining which ex-felons are eligible to vote.

Florida news outlets have also reported that Florida Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes would like to expand the definition of murder in the bill to include attempted murder. The Florida Senate has not yet introduced a similar bill, though.

Desmonde Meade, the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and a formerly incarcerated man who became one of the leading figures of the fight to pass Amendment 4, said the organization "is opposed to any Amendment 4 legislation that creates additional barriers to voting for returning citizens who would otherwise be eligible based on the passage of Amendment 4."

Meade continued: "Any legislation proposed should neither limit the rights created by Amendment 4 nor infringe upon the will of Florida voters."

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  1. It’s like the push to abolish the Electoral College. If you can’t win an election, do better.

    1. If you can’t win a game rigged against you, do better. That is one way to get either top-notch people in government, or the opposite.

      The EC has a habit of delivering the opposite when it goes against popular vote.

      1. As a city-dweller that has to interact with other city-dwellers on a regular basis, making sure that these people’s votes count as little as possible is a good thing.

        1. I could say the same about country bumpkins, and even though I’d obviously have the better case, it would be rather undemocratic and fascist of me. Even morons are entitled to vote. Let’s just have the votes counted equally, since there’s no good reason on earth why not.

          1. Tony, we support the same thing, just for different people. Its okay you won’t be censored here for saying you want to impose your will by force on people.

            1. I do not share your attitude, much as I might wish FOX News junkies to get distracted into a giant ditch on election day. One person one vote is the only way, because we’ll never be able to decide who’s worthy, especially not with FOX News making a third of the country into lunatics.

              1. I do love how you continually attempt to build a facade of tolerance and compassion. The fact it belies the actual contents of your messaging using even the slightest parsing of language is great theater.

                1. When have I ever described myself as tolerant or compassionate?

              2. “Tony|3.20.19 @ 5:47PM|#

                I’m a scammer and a liar.”

                All you need to know about Tony he said there.

                1. The opposite of “tolerance and compassionate” is not “scammer and a liar”.

                  It’s “intolerant and uncompassionate”

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          2. I could say the same about country bumpkins, and even though I’d obviously have the better case, it would be rather undemocratic and fascist of me.

            You don’t have to. Your lopsided support for other fascist and undemocratic policies is nudging their vote ever closer to moot by the day.

          3. Tony, we’re well, well aware of your utter disdain for people that didn’t attend college and are involved in the dirty trades. But really, for your own sake, you should tone it down or just admit you’re a Blue-Blood Republican.

            1. You don’t know me at all. While I might have grown up a blue-blood Republican, the party has since been taken over by mouth-breathing morons via a series of cynical and unsustainable racist campaign tactics, which was more than enough for me to reevaluate my politics and decide that liberalism was for me. As a good liberal I now see these buck-toothed morons as victims of the system. College, indeed, is a good solution for such stupidity, and free college sounds pretty damn good to me to that end.

              1. Is it the part where they have become more like 70’s Democrats that you hate?

              2. “Tony|3.20.19 @ 5:47PM|#

                I’m a scammer and a liar.”

        2. …making sure that these people’s votes count as little as possible is a good thing.

          As is well known, the Electoral College is a check against the tyranny of the majority, a danger of a pure democracy. I don’t know why people are outright ignoring this as a legitimate concern, especially people who seem to pride themselves on standing up for minority interests.

          Ha, just kidding. I know why.

          1. Hogshit. It’s a sop to slave states. There are two presidential candidates. Maybe more, but realistically two. Either the one who gets the most votes wins or the one who gets the least votes wins. There is no rational reason why the loser should win. You just like that it benefits Republicans. Affirmative fucking action of the most catastrophic kind.

            1. *sigh* I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.

              1. You can attempt to rationalize it, but you can’t really defend it. There’s a reason no other jurisdiction on earth uses such a system.

                1. it only matters for presidential elections. Better to limit the power of the presidency so that the outcome of the vote matters less anyway.

            2. “Hogshit. It’s a sop to slave states. ”

              That’s bullshit, but keep telling yourself that because it helps you believe in the moral superiority you’re certain you have instead of just wanting your side grab some of that sweet power so as to bend the rest of us to your will.

              Meanwhile, back to the OP. The Florida legislature is full of shit on this one.

            3. It’s a sop to slave states.

              Sorry, Toady, but what you seem to forget was that at that time nearly all the states were slave states; although some were in the process of “gradual abolition”. Slavery was so widely accepted an institution at the time that it was still legal in Canada. If memory serves, the only one of the original states in which slavery was never legal is Vermont.

              The Electoral College was designed to prevent sparsely populated states like Rhode Island from becoming dependencies of densely populated states like Virginia (a slave state).

              1. “If memory serves, the only one of the original states in which slavery was never legal is Vermont.”

                I will stand corrected if anyone points out that I am in error on this point.

              2. NO IT WAS DESIGNED TO GIVE SLAVE OWNERS who were outnumbered drastically equal footing with northern states. Then they had the balls to deman 3/5 of a person on slaves which gave them A HUGE UNFAIR REPRESENTATION. The EC IS BASED IN SLAVERY.

            4. Hogshit. It’s a sop to slave states.

              I’m guessing you’re one of those people the believes the 3/5ths statement in the constitution was racist and that Lincoln was shot by a southern slave owner.

              College educated… yyyeaaahhhh..

              1. Actually, the 3/5ths provision was, rather than a sop to the slave states (more correctly those states in which slavery was a major part of the economy) it was a compromise over levels of representation.

                As to the 3/5ths provision having something to do with attitudes regarding the “value” of an African as a human being, slave owners would have placed that figure at zero, however they were demanding that they get a count of one in the census. Northerners, because slaves consisted of such a low proportion of the population would have liked to have slaves not counted at all.

                It had zero to do with the value of slaves lives and everything to do with how power was distributed.

              2. OTOH, while he may not have owned any slaves it is most certainly true that John Wilkes Booth (and each the members of the conspiracy that he led) was an advocate of the continued practice of slavery.

                1. Thank you Isaac.
                  The Reason commentariat has been degenerating for years, but engaging in a “it wasnt really racist” defense of the 3/5ths compromise is the sort of thing you could expect to see on stormfront.
                  wtf happened to the comments here? Running across someone actually defending a libertarian position here is basically like spotting a unicorn.

      2. I don’t know if I would characterize the felon vote as “a game rigged” against Republican candidates. In fact, that’s exactly what I’m saying isn’t the case.

      3. As you seem very principled on this matter, Tony, would you also admit that being a felon shouldn’t preclude you from owning a firearm? A reasonable person would agree that once your debt is paid to society that ALL Rights should be restored.

        1. We had a law that included full restitution before voting rights restored. But we put up an initiative to change that. These men and women have fines in the hundreds of thousands. So since they would be minimum wage earners there is no way they would ever pay the entire sub back. So what Florida is doing is Disenfranchising for money. Florida’s Criminal Courts budget relays heavily on the fines that are imposed. So I question. Their motives.

        2. I believe that there should be a full restoration of rights upon completion of a sentence, yes.

  2. From Ballotpedia, here’s what the voters approved:

    “Article VI, Section 4. Disqualifications.?

    (a)…”Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

    “(b) No person convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense shall be qualified to vote until restoration of civil rights.”

    I don’t see anything about attempted murder.

    I mean, *attempted* murder…what is that?

    1. However, paying a criminal fine sounds like a term of the sentence, could I have missed something?

      1. I always assumed that. yeah. you get your vote back after you finish your parole and probation and fees, so you’re all square with the state. I don’t think that’s the problem. The problem is with the fees in the first place. Get rid of them.

      2. I think your spot on. From what I read earlier about this, that is exactly how the Republicans are reading Amendment 4 (paying fines is part of the sentence) which I think is a valid reading of it. Who knows what the courts will do though and whether this strategy is good for them politically in the future. The amendment writers should have specified on the fines, you’d think they’d know about them and how hard FL levies them.

        1. Fines are absolutely part of a sentence. There’s no way to separate them.
          Fees, on the other hand, could certainly be discussed.

          1. We Separated them here in Washington

            1. Are fines and fees not separate most places?

              A fine is part of criminal penalty (don’t know if that includes restitution), like probation/parole or jail time. It’s part of the sentence.
              A fee is usually for court and administrative expenses.

              To me it makes sense to withhold restoration of full rights until the terms of one’s sentence, including fines, have been fulfilled.
              But court fees shouldn’t hold up restoration of those rights, provided that a payment plan is in place.

      3. I googled “term of sentence,” and it seems to be used exclusively to refer to length of imprisonment or probation.

        1. Darn, hit submit too soon.
          See,e.g., Miss Code sec 47-1-33 (“The sheriff on receiving each convict shall furnish such convict with a certificate showing the amount of the fine and costs, as far as the costs are then known, the beginning and length of his term of imprisonment. “)

  3. I just got a really nice bottle of Scotch to go with my new decanter, which is part of the decor in my newly renovated dining room.

    I will give a glass of that Scotch to any of the usual Republicans-4-eva people here who say they are good with felons voting even if it means Republicans lose Florida.

    1. You have a reputation of never making good on your promises or bets, though.

      1. Tulpa claims victory automatically, probably because he thinks making a poopy that day is the same as winning an argument.

        My wager of $10,000 that the next president will be either a Republican or a Democrat is still on the table.

        1. “Tulpa claims victory automatically, probably because he thinks”

          What I think takes a backseat to what I know, which is that I own you so completely that you name check me out of thin air.

        2. “My wager of $10,000 that the next president will be either a Republican or a Democrat is still on the table.”

          Cool where do we escrow?

          1. I knew you’d make this as annoying as possible.

              1. I wouldn’t have brought it up if I knew you were here lurking and waiting to be as insufferable as possible. How stupid of me. Of course that’s what you were doing.

                1. “I wouldn’t have brought it up if I knew you were here lurking ”

                  No doubt, you were obviously lying and were afraid I’d accept.

                  Are you saying you are taking your actuon off the table?

                  If not, then WHERE DO WE ESCROW?

                  You fucking scammers are all alike. Hold you to a bet and the excuses flow.

                  1. I would happily make the bet because I’m 100% certain to put $10,000 of your money to much better use. But the only thing I know about you is that you’re a psychopath.

                    1. That’s why an intelligent person would use an escrow.

                      So, who would you like to use? Or will you be making more excuses?

        3. Tony, literally everyone knows that you don’t actually follow through on bets or promises. You would be the quintessential politician, except no one likes you.

          1. I accepted his 10k in action. Now watch as he

            1) makes excuses for not wanting to escrow

            2) refuses to allow 3rd party arbitration

            1. You realize that your favorite president Donald Trump would have to lose the next election for you to win the bet?


                1. (It’s a very simple question and foolproof way to avoid Screch-like scammers, which is why Tony isn’t answering)

                  1. I never agreed to that term. It was a gentleman’s agreement, and a facetious one at that.

                    1. “and a facetious one at that.”

                      So you were lying, and a scammer. You were trying to freeroll and would have Screeched on the bet.

                      Escrow or STFU bitch.

                    2. You misspelled “fatuous”.

    2. You don’t have any Scotch Tony. You don’t have a decanter either.

      1. I admit it’s a bit retro but it sure does sparkle. I want a separate one for cognac, but I worry about liquoring up the room too much. I miss my grandparents’ house, which had a walk-in wet bar. Those should come back in style.

          1. Fine. We escrow with my friend Guido. He’s largely neutral.

              1. 5’10” hung

                1. I would prefer escrow.com

                  Do you want to continue showing everyone you’re a lying scammer or is the bet on?

                  1. I’d prefer Guido, as I don’t believe this would be a legal bet.

                    1. Then POST HIS FUCKING DETAILS BITCH.

                    2. (everyone can see you’re punking out Tony)

                    3. Nobody thinks you’re being serious either. And nobody thinks you’re remotely amusing, even a little, even by accident, ever.

                    4. Tell me where to ACTUALLY escrow and find put bitch.

                    5. (everyone can still see you’re punking out Tony)

                    6. I accepted your 10k in action. I suggested an actual escrow that does escrow actual bets.

                      You lied, cried, and now you’ll hide.

                    7. “I didn’t think you were serious” is what bitch scammers say when put to it.

                    8. The point of the rhetoric is to establish the absolute certainty that the next president will be an (R) or a (D), something of which I’m sure you’re no doubt aware, meaning you aren’t serious about the bet either, so shut the fuck up and go clean your mom’s snatch. It’s 15 minutes past snatch time.

                    9. Save the excuses bitch scammer.

                      WHERE DO WE ESCROW.

                    10. I bet two cents* that this is getting annoying.

                      *Terms and conditions may apply. For example, this is totally a joke and I’m not giving anyone my two cents except metaphorically.

                    11. Eddy, don’t be even dumber than usual, you’re bitching about something that as over hours ago.

                    12. Where do we escrow? If Tony gets Guido then I want Layla.

      2. You don’t have any Scotch Tony. You don’t have a decanter either.

        You really believe that Ivory Tower Motherfucker doesn’t have a decanter?

        The only school I went to is the School of Hard Knocks with a PhD in the streets and I have a crystal decanter.

        1. The worst part is scotch. Y’all can keep that shit.

          Go pour me a nice stout.

    3. The felons will never out vote the Puerto Rico refugees.

  4. I’ve always thought that any violent crime that possibly resulted in your victim being unable to vote, including attempted murder, should make you forfeit your vote.

    1. I will not rest until Paul Manafort can again vote in our vibrant democracy.

  5. Wait, there are voters in Florida who aren’t felons?

    1. Yes, and both of us vote in every election

    2. I was once a voter in Florida – not a felon – and in the year 2000, no less. My polling place was a church across the street from where I lived, and voting was by optical scanner. Alas, imagine the glorious future never known because all of the Sunshine State wasn’t equally well prepared. Plus I had to apologize on Florida’s behalf for years afterwards.

      Good diving tho. Two orange trees in the front yard and a grapefruit tree in the back. But those damn little lizards got everywhere, plus fire ants, wild fires, and giant flying cockroaches…..

    3. Wait, there are voters in Florida who aren’t felons?

      Are you still a felon once you’re dead?

  6. Once again we see the Republican response to elections. If we win great. If we lose, we change the rules. This is just like Wisconsin. When Democrat Tony Evers won, the Republican in the legislature decided the Governor had too much power. Or President Trump losing the House. Just declare a national emergency and by pass the Congress to get funding.

  7. What makes us think these poor felons won’t be especially susceptible to Russian ads on Facebook?

    1. I think the assumption is they’re all Democrats, therefore much less gullible……..

  8. I support the principle of letting the States decide whether felons should vote or not. If Florida wants to limit voting by felons, I support that. If some other State wants to expand voting rights for felons, I support that. The principle of “Let the States decide” is more important to me than whether it’s a good or bad policy to allow felons to vote.

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    1. Do you think you will lose your voting rights when your scam is uncovered?

  10. “A Florida House committee advanced a bill that would require people with felony records to pay off their court debts before they could regain the right to vote.”

    Have they paid *any* restitution to their *victims*?

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