Key lawmakers now saying they may need to interpret what voters meant in approving Amendment 4 to restore felon voting rights

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.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Oh come on-you need to interpret what voters meant? We meant restore their right to vote and don’t put obstacles in their way. If they completed their sentence, finished probation (you can’t get released from probation until restitution if ordered is paid) restore their voting rights. No stalling tactics-attempting to override what voters wanted. If you look someone up on Department of Corrections website you can see if they are on probation, released, and what charges were. Not that difficult. Rights need to be restored, there is an important election in 2020 and they should be able to vote!

  2. The Florida legislature abdicates their responsibility to use the democratic process of deliberation and concensus building by quickly kicking the can down the road via a referendum. However , when the vote doesn’t go their way they then decide to discuss an “appropriate” implementation. Folks we supposedly live in a representative democracy; the polity has spoken, represent the publics sentiment and don’t try to continue the suppression of the peoples will. Do your job!!

  3. As long as the GOP remains in control of Florida’s Legislature the will of Floridians will be ignored. The question remains why do Floridians continue to vote for Republicans when they know full well their Wishes are ignored?

  4. If the Florida legislature insists on abdicating its law-making responsibilities by presenting every potential proposal as an amendment to the state Constitution, then the people have spoken. Clearly. What? Didn’t plan for it? Whose fault is that? Make it so. No equivocating.

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