Joe Henderson: Florida GOP wants to place more hurdles on Amendment 4
Advocates are taking action to restore voting rights to ex-felons.

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Florida Republicans just couldn’t accept the vote on Amendment 4 and let it go.

Florida Republicans just couldn’t accept the vote on Amendment 4 and let it go. Tallahassee couldn’t take its collective feet off the throats of people least able to defend themselves.

I’m not surprised and don’t know why anyone would be.

Floridians approved Amendment 4 by nearly 65 percent last November. It restored voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, including parole and probation.

That’s about 1 million people, and it should be noted that those convicted of crimes like murder and rape are not eligible. Case closed?

Hardly.

The Florida House responded with a thinly disguised shakedown. That’s not how they phrase it, of course. They are attempting, they say, to clarify what it takes to get those rights restored.

Uh huh.

Yeah, Mr. or Ms. Felon, you spent a lot of time in jail and then completed your probation. But unless you can pay all these outstanding fees that weren’t necessarily part of your original sentence, you’re still a felon in the GOP’s narrowed eyes.

Good lord, people. That is pathetic.

Everyone understands why Republicans are doing it, too. They believe the majority of those whose rights are restored will choose candidates from the other party. If they weren’t going to before, they sure will now.

State Rep. James Grant, a Tampa Republican, has sponsored HB 7089, although I characterize it more as a scheme.

It’s an obvious end run around the will of the people while trying to appear statesmanlike. It’s kind of like what happened after Republicans realized voters had approved medical marijuana. My goodness, some of them thought.

That means people battling devastating illnesses will be smoking it to get relief from unrelenting pain. Oh NO!! That is, of course, unless we outlaw smoking as a delivery system!

It took a common-sense approach from Gov. Ron DeSantis to say it isn’t the Legislature’s place to subvert the will of the people.

It’s the same thing here. People know what they voted for.

Some outraged Democrats have said this basically is a poll tax. Hyperbole aside, they’re not far off.

Some of the fees for various court costs and investigations can run in the many thousands of dollars.

A 2010 report from the Brennan Center for Justice noted that Florida relies so heavily on fees to fund its courts that observers have called it ‘cash register justice.’ Since 1996, Florida added more than 20 new categories of financial obligations for criminal defendants and, at the same time, eliminated most exemptions for those who cannot pay.”

Private collection agencies can tack on extra fees while harassing their targets.

Also, explaining that gap of 5-to-10 years in your employment history when you’re trying to get a job can be tricky. Having “felon” on your resume can be a deal-breaker.

That’s why the Republican response to this issue is especially cynical.

Republicans won the last three races for Governor in Florida by about 1 point. Rick Scott won election to the U.S. Senate by roughly the same margin.

Donald Trump won Florida by 1.2 percent in 2016.

Unleash 1 million new voters likely to be Democrats? Can’t have that. The only way around Amendment 4 is to, um, “clarify” what it takes to have voting rights restored.

But every lawmaker involved in this subterfuge knows the deal. Florida voters didn’t size up Amendment 4 in November thinking about court costs and fines. They were thinking about basic fairness.

If a felon paid their debt to society, people believed it was paid in full and didn’t need tack-on fees.

This is Florida, though, so why would anyone ever think that?

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


4 comments

  • John

    March 25, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Yes, and we should give the felons the keys to the finances, access to the weapon arsenals, the pharmacies, and the governor’s mansion. Yes, the felons should be in charge, that is the smartest course of action.

  • Dan Woodard

    March 25, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    DeSantis is saying that we Fl;orrida voters are too stupid to understand what we were voting for. He is saying that when we voted to restore the voting rights of felons, we actually meant we only wanted to restore the voting rights of felons with a lot of money, most of whom vote Republican. DeSantis says that we vopters stupidly did not realize that we don’t want people who are poor or black to vote. And DeSantis is an honorable man.

  • Ron DeSantis

    March 25, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    What kind of rambling crap is this article? You could not just write an unbiased, facts based article? Sheesh…

  • Harry

    March 25, 2019 at 3:01 pm

    Amendment 4 passed. Whoever doesn’t like it, too bad. It’s in the Florida constitution now and there’s nothing you can do about it. Voting is the right of EVERY U.S. Citizen, not the select few.

    The only ones complaining are the Republicans because they know if every citizen voted they would lose elections to the Democrats. There are more people who are Democrats than Republicans. Republicans are not going to accomplish any damn thing by tampering with Amendment 4 with their bullshit “implementation is needed”. Amendment 4 is in plain English and automatic. They have no power to do anything about it. The constitution trumps state law.

    By the way, Florida was one of only FOUR backwards states to disenfranchise people before Amendment 4 passed. Get with the program Florida.

Comments are closed.


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