‘We do believe in restoration, we do believe in second chances. We also believe in debts being paid…’
(AFP) Florida lawmakers on Friday approved a measure barring people with felony convictions from registering to vote unless they first pay fines, court fees and restitution that can amount to thousands of dollars.
Critics accuse Republicans of seeking to prevent 1.4 million ex-felons who had only just regained the right to vote in the southeastern US state from registering ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
The state’s House of Representatives approved the bill 67-42 on Friday, a day after it passed the Senate, and it now goes to Governor Ron DeSantis’s desk.
“We do believe in restoration, we do believe in second chances. We also believe in debts being paid,” said Representative James Grant, the sponsor of the measure in the Florida House.
“I think the product that you’re seeing has been an effort to reconcile those two things and make sure that when somebody has paid their debt to society they are able to return to vote,” Grant told the local WCTV channel.
The issue is an especially sensitive one in a state that has had a major impact on who takes the White House, and where elections are decided by narrow margins, with every vote counting.
Democrats call for veto
In November, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to ex-convicts who have already served all terms of their sentence, and did not commit sex crimes or murder.
The Florida constitution had previously denied voting rights to ex-felons, and the amendment was expected to add tens of thousands of people to the state’s voting rolls.
But the Republican-controlled Florida legislature proposed the measure requiring the payment of debts such as court fees first — something critics say is impossible for many ex-convicts to do.
After hours of debate, lawmakers reached an agreement under which judges will be able to waive the payments, or allow ex-convicts to pay their debts through community service.
The measure “serves no purpose other than to try to keep working-class Floridians from voting,” said Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party. Her party has called on DeSantis to veto the bill.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that if approved, the bill would disproportionately hurt poor people of color.
“Restricting the ability to vote based on the size of one’s bank account will have a disparate and intensely negative impact on communities of color and economically disadvantaged individuals, and perpetuate the old Jim Crow practice of government interference in African Americans’ access to the ballot box,” the ACLU said in a statement.