Study suggests Amendment 4 bill would disproportionately impact minorities

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A new study by the Brennan Center for Justice found more than 2,000 felons registered to vote in Florida within the first three months of 2019. It was a 99 percent increase over the past two non-general election years.

Legislation awaiting Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature would require felons pay back fines, fees, and restitution before they have their voting rights restored under Amendment 4.

DeSantis said he supports the requirement.

“You know, as a prosecutor there were times when restitution was more important than incarceration,” said DeSantis.

Of the felons who have registered to vote since Amendment 4 took effect in January, 44 percent self-identified as black. Blacks make up only 13 percent of currently registered voters in the state.

“People are going to be disproportionately impacted and those people are going to be people of color,” said Kara Gross with the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report also found the newly-registered felons make $15,000 a year less on average than the general voting population. Social justice groups have said it suggests the financial requirements would pose a substantial obstacle to restoration.

However, there are alternatives to payment under the Amendment 4 implementing bill. A felon can petition a judge to waive fines or fees or have them converted to community service hours.

When we spoke with House Sponsor James Grant in March, he said he didn’t take into account who would be impacted when drafting the bill.

“My only job was to be as objective as possible to maintain the will of the voters and when the contract put before the voters was after they complete all terms of their sentence, that's exactly what we're going to do,” said Grant.

But Scott McCoy with the Southern Poverty Law Center said that was a grave misstep.

“If we knew we had a racial disparities problem we should definitely do policies and institute laws that try and rectify and eliminate those racial disparities,” said McCoy.

With approval from the Governor expected, both the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center said lawsuits are in the works.