Florida’s Ex-Felons Must Pay Court Fees Before Voting

On Tuesday, a Florida House committee approved a measure that would require former felons to pay all court fees before being eligible to vote, in what many consider a limitation on voting rights. Voting along party lines, the Republican-run committee approved the measure in a 10-6 decision. According to a report from Tampa Bay News, -former felons will still be required to pay expenses even if a judge does not require payment as part of the individual’s sentence. A former standard only required that a felon pay back restitution to their victims before getting his or her civil rights restored. Democrats lashed out at the initiative. “It’s blatantly unconstitutional as a poll tax,” state Representative Adam Hattersley told the publication. Meanwhile, GOP Committee chairman James Grant rejected the notion that paying back fees has any links to a poll tax.

“To suggest that this is a poll tax inherently diminishes the atrocity of what a poll tax actually was,” Grant said. “All we’re doing is following statute. All we’re doing is following the testimony of what was presented before the Florida Supreme Court explicitly acknowledging that fines and court costs are part of a sentence.” Grant also told the Tampa Bay Times that Republicans basically adopted what was enacted on Amendment 4, a proposition that restored the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after voters passed the amendment on November 2018. The measure stipulated that completing someone’s sentence could entail the payment of fees and court costs.

Nevertheless, defenders of Amendment 4 said the party line vote has become politicized and that no additional legislative action is needed because the amendment granted “automatic” restoration of voting rights. “Today, we saw the beginning of the politicization of Amendment 4,” Neil Volz, political director for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, told The Tampa Bay Times. “We think we can do better than that. Kirk Bailey, political director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a written statement that the bill is “an affront to Florida voters who approved Amendment 4,” adding that it would potentially disenfranchise those who already served their time.

“This bill will broaden the narrow exclusions for murder and sexual felony offenses in the amendment, and broaden what was contemplated by completion of one’s sentence to include all sorts of court fees and supervision costs unrelated to one’s sentence. This will inevitably prevent individuals from voting based on the size of one’s bank account,” Bailey added.

As of January, as many as 1.4 million people became eligible to vote in Florida, a battleground state that has been notorious for razor-thin results in vital elections. With the passage of Amendment 4, individuals convicted of murder or felony sexual offense will not get their voting rights restored.

Only Maine and Vermont allow convicted felons to vote while behind bars, the Florida Association of Counties stated. Nineteen states restore voting rights upon completion of prison time, parole and probation, and seven states have systems where certain fellows, depending on the type of or number of crimes perpetrated, have the right to vote again.

About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.