Florida Bill Will Force Formerly Incarcerated People to Pay Criminal Fines Before Voting

The Florida state House of Representatives passed a bill that would require formerly incarcerated individuals to pay all court fees and fines before they can vote.

The bill was passed in a 71-45 vote on April 24, The Miami Herald reported. The new legislation would require people to pay restitution, fines, and fees ordered by a judge before their voting rights are restored. The Senate version of the bill requires incarcerated people to pay restitution only if the court fines and fees are converted to a civil lien, the publication reported.

In November, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million formerly incarcerated people, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.

Those who supported the voting rights amendment slammed the House’s new bill. In a statement on Facebook, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Political Director Neil Volz wrote that the vote “represented a failure to live up to the bipartisan commitment Florida voters showed with the passage of Amendment 4.”

“We believe the Senate 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 said.

New Jersey Senator and potential Democratic nominee Cory Booker called the bill “a poll tax.” Booker recently proposed a “new Voting Rights Act” which would reform voting rights including restoring rights to formerly incarcerated people. Formerly incarcerated people who completed their parole or probation had their voting rights restored as Amendment 4 took effect on January 8, the Sun Sentinel previously reported. The National Conference of State Legislatures found that there are 22 states where incarcerated people lose their voting rights while serving time, probation, or while on parole. There are also 14 states and the District of Columbia where people lose their voting rights while incarcerated but have their rights restored once they complete their sentences.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said earlier this month that states should consider extending voting rights to incarcerated people. Vermont and Maine are the only two states in the country that allow people to vote while incarcerated.

“In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” Sanders previously told attendees at an Iowa town hall meeting, according to the Des Moines Register. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.