Conservative groups oppose GOP Amendment 4 bill

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The decision could impact the voting rights of more than 1 million Floridians.

Lawyers from two Washington D.C.-based libertarian think tanks are opposing Florida Republican lawmakers’ efforts to curb Amendment 4.

Cato Institute and R Street Institute lawyers wrote Friday to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals about their opposition to last year’s Senate Bill 7066, which requires felons seeking to register to vote to first have fulfilled their financial obligations associated with their criminal record.

The lawyers wrote “[Friends of the court] believe that SB7066, insofar as it excludes people who cannot afford to pay criminal court debt from participation in the democratic process, perhaps permanently, violates the bedrock guarantee of equal rights that every citizen enjoys.”

Without a protective injunction from the court, the group argues “SB 7066 will have the effect of excluding a great number of people from voting because their poverty, while allowing similar situated wealthy persons to vote.”

The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank established in 1977 by Charles Koch, Ed Crane and Murray Rothbard. The R Street Institute is a libertarian think tank established in 2012. Both research foundations support free markets and limited government.

In June 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 7066 into law. It came after the November 2018 passage of Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to certain felons.

Some critics of SB 7066 compared the need for felons to fully pay restitution to a poll tax, which was a way to keep African Americans from voting in southern states starting in the 1890s.

SB 7066 requires former inmates to fully pay court fees, fines and restitution. However, it does have a provision that allows indigent offenders to have fines waived or reduced.

Several lawsuits have been filed even despite the provision, arguing the implementation of SB 7066 is unconstitutional.

In October 2019, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle ruled it is unconstitutional to prevent felons from voting who are “genuinely” unable to pay their financial obligations. Hinkle said the law created an “administrative nightmare.” DeSantis appealed the decision a month later.

Earlier this week, the Florida Supreme Court sided with DeSantis, requiring felons to complete all their financial obligations of their criminal sentences before they can register to vote again.

The high court’s decision could impact the voting rights of more than 1 million Floridians ahead of the 2020 elections.

On Jan. 28, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a separate federal lawsuit.

In April, a trial is scheduled to begin in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.

Mark Bergin

Mark Bergin is a freelance journalist, who previously worked as an online writer for 10News WTSP in St. Petersburg. Bergin has covered the Tampa Bay Rays’ stadium negotiations, the 2018 midterm elections, Hurricane Irma, Tampa Bay’s transportation issues and city/county government. He also covers the NFL for the Bleav Podcast Network and for BrownsNation.com. You can follow his work on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at @mdbergin. Reach him by email at [email protected]


4 comments

  • No More Republicans !

    January 20, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    Once a convicted person finishes his sentence and is released, he/she can relocate to a state that will allow him/her to vote – OR – civil rights lawyers in Florida can offer to assist that person with filing bankruptcy in order to discharge whatever debts he/she has been saddled with. The convicted person can then put a statement on his/her credit reports that he/she filed bankruptcy in order to regain the right the vote in Florida.

    Screw the GOP mooks that have been running this state for the past 22 years!

    • steve grabarczyk

      January 20, 2020 at 4:55 pm

      While I agree with you, you can not discharge this debt in bankruptcy. Lets hope the Federal Judges get it right because the FL Supreme court is bought and paid for.

  • paulette kennamer

    January 20, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    Then don’t do the crime, simple.

  • Bill In Palatka

    January 21, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    The Florida GOP is desperately trying to maintain an egregious and disgraceful law that serves no purpose–and let’s be honest here–other than disenfranchising large numbers of minority voters and poor whites, groups that are aware of Republican-imposed policies that have kept many of them incarcerated under extreme sentencing guidelines and, after release, out of the voting booth FOR YEARS, leaving them voiceless and powerless in their own communities.

    The GOP is also concerned that it won’t be able to engineer a win for Trump in Florida in 2020 if many of these folks are allowed to vote. This is all such an amazing and absolute disgrace.

    Absurdly, Republicans are trying to make the unusual and highly implausible argument that the question of felon voting rights is somehow a moral one of which they hold the high ground. Baloney! When a man or woman walks out of jail or prison, then that sentence is over. Case closed. Continually punishing someone years after they have served their time is not democracy and essentially hands someone a life sentence when one is not warranted.

Comments are closed.


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