The Slatest

Florida Senate Approves Making Ex-Felons Pay Fees to Have Right to Vote Restored

South Florida voters cast their ballots at a polling center in Miami, Florida on November 6, 2018.
South Florida voters cast their ballots at a polling center in Miami, Florida on November 6, 2018.
RHONA WISE/Getty Images

In November, voters in the state of Florida approved an amendment to the constitution that would restore voting rights to the state’s one million convicted felons once they’ve completed serving their sentences. Ever since, the Republican-controlled state government has been looking to undermine the wishes of 64.5 percent of the state’s voters and, on Thursday, took another step in subverting the will of a near supermajority of voters by requiring that felons, upon release, have to pay any financial penalties and costs imposed by the judge. That means irrelevant expenses like court costs, fines, and fees, along with potentially larger restitution orders, could keep an ex-felon from being able to vote. You know what that sounds like? A poll tax in reverse. A poll credit card of sorts.

“Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said he wishes his bill could be more lenient, but the language of the amendment said all terms of a sentence have to be completed, and that includes restitution, court costs, fines and fees ordered by a judge,” the Associated Press reports. “He said that language doesn’t give the Legislature any leeway to ignore it.” He really wishes, but his hands are really tied on this one. Shame. The amendment on the ballot six months ago stated voting rights would be restored once “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation” were complete. There was no mention of court costs or fees.

The bill now goes to the state House, which so far has refused to agree to pass anything other than its own version of the bill, which institutes the narrowest possible interpretation of the amendment. Friday is the final day to pass bills in the Florida legislature.