TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Felons will have to pay fines, fees, and restitution ordered by a judge before they can have their voting rights restored under legislation now headed to the Governor’s desk. The bill is less restrictive than originally proposed, but Amendment 4 supporters say it still has too many pitfalls for failure.
The bill provides that felons can petition a court to wave fines and fees or convert them to community service hours.
“We do believe in restoration, we do believe in second chances. We also believe in debts being paid,” said House Sponsor Representative James Grant. "I think the product that you're seeing has been an effort to reconcile those two things and make sure that when somebody has paid their debt to society they are able to return to vote.”
But Democrats like Senator Oscar Braynon say putting a financial obligation on voting rights restoration wasn’t the intent of voters and creates an unequal system.
“People who have money will get the right to vote and people who don't will not get the right to vote,” said Braynon. “You end up getting I'm going to say unintended consequences. “
Under a criminal justice reform bill also sent to the Governor’s desk Friday, all those released from prison going forward will be given a checklist outlining everything they need to do in order to fully complete their sentence.
Sponsor Representative Paul Renner says it will help felons understand where they stand with regard to Amendment 4.
“Someone that finishes a 20-year sentence literally does not have anything on their iPhone or on a piece of paper that says, 'My debt is paid to society.' We want to get to that point,” said Renner.
As part of the Amendment 4 bill, any felon who improperly registered to vote between January 8 and the effective date of the bill on July 1 would be immune from prosecution.
Even with attempts to find middle ground, lawsuits are almost guaranteed.
Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody is playing it safe, choosing not to answer any questions regarding Amendment 4.
“Our office will likely be involved in spearheading defense of whatever litigation ends up coming out,” said Moody.
Lawmakers say they don’t anticipate this legislation will be the end of the Amendment 4 debate. They say streamlining the registration and notification process are issues likely to be revisited next year.