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Senate passes law undermining Amendment 4

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In response to the Florida Senate passing SB 7066 impacting Amendment 4, Patricia Brigham, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida released the following statement:

Throughout the years, the Florida Legislature has earned a reputation of gutting citizen initiatives and wasting taxpayer money defending their legislation in court.

We are witnessing the Legislature continue that reputation of citizen obstruction today, as the Senate has passed along party lines a law that prohibits a citizen with a felony conviction who has completed their incarceration and probation — a returning citizen — from voting if they have not paid all court costs, fees, or restitution — even if those financial obligations have been converted into a civil judgment or lien by a judge, as is their authority to do so under law.

In addition, this bill puts the onus on determining whether each returning citizen with a felony conviction has completed their sentence on the shoulders of 67 different Supervisors of Elections, when this duty had been carried out for many years by the Department of State. Supervisors of Elections have had no previous experience or training in conducting the necessary criminal background searches into 67 different state courthouses to determine voting eligibility. This will cause returning citizen voter registration to grind to a complete halt.

Limiting voting to those who have large bank accounts to pay financial obligations will have unequal treatment based on personal economic wealth and is unfair to citizens of all races. Given the harsh history of our state’s racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, imposing legislation that disproportionately punishes those with less economic might will continue the old Jim Crow practice of placing governmental roadblocks to the ballot. This legislative action will not survive the strict scrutiny that legislation disparately harming African-Americans requires.

This bill would ensure that a citizen without the means to pay back all financial obligations will endure a lifetime ban on voting. An American citizen’s bank account should never affect whether they can vote.

There is no need for this legislation in order to have restitution be protected for injured parties. Converting the financial obligations, including restitution, to civil judgments and allowing returning citizens to vote would provide better opportunity for injured parties to collect restitution as the civil judgments are enforceable.

Not only is it morally wrong, but it is an affront to the 5.2 million Floridians who voted for Amendment 4 and a direct attack on the Florida Constitution to disenfranchise an entire class of people who have completed the terms of their criminal sentences but are unable to pay off financial obligations.

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