The Florida House approved a bill late Wednesday that is expected to limit the number of former felons who will be eligible to vote following the passage of Constitutional Amendment 4 last fall.
The vote was 71-45.
Amendment 4, passed by more than 64 percent of Florida voters, said that the voting rights of all former felons – with the exception of those charged with murder or a sexual felony offense – would automatically get their voting rights restored when they complete “all terms” of their sentence.
The House bill says that completion of a sentence includes full payment of any fines or fees imposed by the court as part of the sentence. Supporters of the Constitutional Amendment say that the bill is “self- implementing,” meaning it does not require additional language to be imposed by the Legislature.
But Republicans disagree.
“Without a piece of legislation, it is impossible to make Amendment 4 work,” said Rep. Jamie Grant, the GOP sponsor of the bill who represents a part of the Tampa Bay area.
In fact, County Supervisors of Elections and the Florida Secretary of State’s office told legislators in January that they needed clarification to determine when former inmates have fully completed their sentences to be eligible to vote. Governor Ron DeSantis also said before the session started that the amendment needed clarification legislation.
The law went into effect on January 8.
The House debated the bill Tuesday night, and again on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Democrats proposed a number of amendments, all of which were defeated.
Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a Democrat from Broward County and a practicing criminal defense attorney, proposed that financial obligations should not be a barrier to voting.“The bill continues to disenfranchise people,” he said.
“Returning citizens should all be treated the same, regardless of financial status,” Gottlieb said.
Rep. Evan Jenne, a Democrat from Broward County, offered an amendment that allowed for felons who owe fees, fines or restitution to go on a payment plan. It too was defeated.
On Wednesday afternoon, the House debated the measure for another three hours, with Democrats sensing distrust and concerns about distorting the will of voters.
“This is why society doesn’t trust elected officials,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee from Miami. “Because they send us here to do one thing, and we do a totally opposite thing. And we do it under the guise of clarity.”
Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from Broward County, said, “The people spoke. And what are we doing now? We’re coming here and we’re playing with it,” he said. “What makes you think that Floridians should trust us when they speak?”
The Senate has yet to vote on their version, where there are some differences from the House bill. It had yet to be scheduled as of early Wednesday evening.