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Pat Frank hosting drive to pay off fines, fees for ex-felons to restore voting rights

A group is helping with costs to ensure poverty isn’t a barrier to voting.

Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court Pat Frank is partnering with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to help ex-felons restore their right to vote.

Workers with the government agency will be on hand Friday at 11:30 a.m. to offer convicted felons who have served their sentences to have any remaining fines or fees keeping them from having their voting rights restored.

Florida voters approved Amendment 4 that allows nonviolent ex-felons to have their rights restored after they’ve completed their sentences, but the Florida Legislature in its implementing language tied that restoration to any remaining financial obligations.

The Clerk’s office reviewed dozens of cases in which convicted felons completed their sentences but still had remaining fines and is discounting those obligations 40 percent.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition will cover the remaining fines and fees through its initiative to get returning citizens back onto the voter rolls.

Friday’s event is one of 10 around the state in which the coalition will distribute donations to help nearly 200 people complete their sentences and become eligible to vote.

The coalition’s Fines and Fees Fund, which launched this summer, was set up to help returning citizens to breakdown those financial barriers they face in becoming re-eligible to vote.

“My office stands ready every day to help people take the steps necessary to regain their right to vote,” Frank said. “Voting is an important part of the American way of life and will help those convicted of felonies to become active and engaged members of our community.”

Other counties participating include Orange, Miami-Dade, Seminole, Lake, Polk, St. Lucie, Hendry, Brevard and Alachua.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren announced this week a similar initiative with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt to waive fines and fees for those who cannot afford to pay.

“I can’t think of a better gift to give someone this holiday season than the ability to participate in democracy,” said Desmond Meade, executive director of the coalition. “The ability to cast a ballot means your voice can be heard, that is a gift and a blessing.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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