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Florida Legislators Weaken Voting Rights Amendment

On Friday, May 3, Florida lawmakers passed a controversial bill that would require returning citizens, formerly convicted of felonies, to pay court-ordered restitution and fines before restoring their ability to vote. Democrats protested that this went against the will of the 65% of Florida voters who passed the Amendment 4 ballot measure last November, which automatically restored voting rights to returning citizens who had completed their sentences.

As the Orlando Sentinel reports, many Democrats have described the new legislation as a modern-day “poll tax” because it requires payment before voting rights are restored.

Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which played an integral role in getting Amendment 4 on the November ballot, expressed dissatisfaction with the Florida legislature for creating a bill that placed restrictions on the amendment.

“There was a sense of disappointment when politicians got involved,” Meade said. “Our elected officials had over 20 plus years to deal with this issue and they did not pick the ball up. They walked off the playing field. What we as citizens and returning citizens did is that we picked up that ball and we got it across the finish line. After we got it across the finish line, here come elected officials to try to pick that ball back up. Today they fumbled.”

This bill was passed in a package that included criminal justice reform measures supported by Democrats, including an increase in the threshold for felony theft charges from $300 to $1,000, the elimination of a mandatory charge of minors as adults if they have prior violent crime charges and support for people seeking occupational licenses while incarcerated.

Learn more about the debate over this bill and other legislation passed during this session here.