UPDATE: Governor-elect Ron DeSantis tells the Palm Beach Post that he wants the Legislature to draft a law to “implement” Amendment 4 to restore felon voting rights. DeSantis opposed the amendment.
In the weeks since more than 64 percent of Floridians approved Constitutional Amendment 4 to automatically restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million felons, there has been growing concerns that the Republican-led Legislature may find ways to “slow-walk” the process.
The central question is: Does Amendment 4 automatically kick-in next month, or will the Legislature need to get involved?
“I would dislike the Legislature from taking any steps that might be perceived as thwarting or slowing down the voter’s intent,” Pinellas County Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson said on Wednesday at a meeting of the Legislature’s Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee. Rouson, a former prosecuting attorney, said he believes the law automatically kicks in on January 8 and said other legal experts interpret it the same way.
But Secretary of State Ken Detzner has questioned whether the state’s 67 county Supervisors of Election can go ahead and start registering felons to vote without an edict from the state Legislature.
“It would be inappropriate for us to charge off without direction from them,” Detzner told reporters in Sarasota last week.
Rouson said Wednesday he is working on a “communication” for Detzner to clarify the issue.
St. Petersburg Republican state Sen. and committee chair Jeff Brandes said he agreed that the law does begin on January 8, but added that there remain a number of questions that need to be resolved.
“Does there need to be an implementing bill? Do we need to find when the sentence ends? Does that involve court costs? Does that include restitution being paid?” he asked rhetorically, saying all aspects should be reviewed.
Rouson asked Brandes to have legislative staff provide a report next month on how the measure gets implemented. Brandes deferred, saying that the issue needs to be addressed by a different panel – the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice – which is chaired by Alachua County Republican Keith Perry.
“I do think that there are some things to look at,” Perry said, referring to court costs and a felon’s probation status as specific examples. “I think that we have to have some dialogue on that and come up with something on what direction we would go to make sure that rights are restored appropriately.”
Several elections supervisors complained last week that the Secretary of State’s office has given them no guidance at all on how to implement the initiative.