Annette Taddeo bill requires state to notify ex-felons of outstanding fines and fees
Annette Taddeo makes big bank.

taddeo
The lack of such a database can delay individuals looking to restore their voting rights.

Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo wants the state to shoulder the burden of informing ex-felons seeking to reclaim their right to vote about any outstanding financial obligations.

The Republican Legislature approved a law last Session (SB 7066) requiring ex-felons to pay all fines, fees and restitution before their voting rights are restored under Amendment 4.

Some groups have challenged the law. That challenge is moving through the court system, but the most recently federal appellate court ruling upheld Republicans’ legislation.

While Democrats have opposed the law on principle — dubbing the measure a “poll tax”— there are practical concerns as well. Tracking whether payments have been made isn’t as easy as it sounds. There is no one central location which houses that information.

Local counties typically record whether financial obligations have been met, but those challenging the GOP law argue the databases are not updated. Moreover, individuals can also owe money based on cases outside the state. Tracking down that information can be burdensome.

As lawmakers debated and shaped SB 7066, there were proposals to require a state-run registry tracking whether an individual owes any financial obligations. State statutes currently bar law enforcement details — such as these financial details in question — from being shared with non-law enforcement agencies like the Department of State. That office, therefore, cannot independently verify whether an individual is eligible to have their voting rights restored.

Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo raised the issue at a Sept. 2019 meeting, highlighting the problems with approving legislation without a registry.

“I believe it to be far more expensive and prohibitive,” Pizzo said of the process without a centralized database. “Someone with a crime in Cincinnati, Ohio is going to have to go to Cincinnati, Ohio if they don’t have the resources of a pro bono organization or a lawyer in the family to be able to decipher and determine what is owed and what is the status.”

Pizzo acknowledged concerns over the state keeping such a centralized database but argued one would be beneficial. Nevertheless, other Democrats ultimately pushed to remove the provision over those concerns about the state having free access to information regarding a person’s financial obligations.

Taddeo says she’s seeking to change the process. She plans to file a bill allowing ex-felons to petition the state to determine whether they owe any fines, fees and restitution prior to restoring their voting rights. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement would then work with State Attorneys’ offices to respond within 30 days with a certified letter outlining debts.

If the state does not respond within 30 days, the obligations are waived.

“Those individuals who have served their sentences and want to rejoin the democratic process should not be remanded by government bureaucrats to a new imprisonment designed to strip their voting rights indefinitely,” Taddeo said in a statement announcing the proposal.

“This bill ensures that the path to regain those rights is clear and unambiguous, as the voters intended.”

Republicans have pointed to testimony from Amendment 4’s original backers, stating that repayment of fines and fees would be a necessary part of “completing” a person’s sentence. Taddeo argues that if the state is to set up such a requirement, the state should bear the burden of tracking whether the requirement is met.

“After 65% of Floridians spoke loud and clear that former felons should have their right to vote restored after serving their sentence, the Legislature on a party line vote instituted the additional hurdle of paying their fines and fees,” Taddeo said.

“But we now see that this information seems to be a state secret, with an admission that getting that answer could take years. This is wrong. It should not take years to get an answer that a few computer strokes should be able to provide.”

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


11 comments

  • Ian

    September 24, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    From the article:
    Taddeo … plans to file a bill allowing ex-felons to petition the state to determine whether they owe any fines, fees and restitution prior to restoring their voting rights.

    From the Google dictionary:
    felon–
    noun: felon; plural noun: felons.
    a person who has been convicted of a felony.

    From the Florid Constitution:
    SECTION 4. Disqualifications.—
    (a) No person convicted of a felony, or adjudicated in this or any other state to be mentally incompetent, shall be qualified to vote or hold office until restoration of civil rights or removal of disability. Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

    Therefore:
    Please stop using the term “ex-felons.” Amendment 4 pertains to felons, not ex-felons. If you’re an ex-felon (e.g. your conviction was overturned on appeal), then the Florida Constitution does not bar you from voting, with or without A4, because you are no longer a felon. Felons lose their voting rights (until they complete all terms of their sentence or are granted clemency). Ex-felons don’t need their voting rights restored because they are not felons.

    • Palmer Tom

      September 24, 2020 at 2:27 pm

      If you are not a convicted felon, you aren’t a felon or an ex-felon, you’re simply an accused felon.
      Getting ack to the main point of the story, the lack of a database is a Catch 22 that was perhaps deliberate and needs to be fixed.

      • Ian

        September 24, 2020 at 4:58 pm

        Interesting you say that about a Catch 22. Even more interesting is that the attorney (Jon Mills) for Amendment 4’s sponsor told the Fla Supreme Court in 2017 that the transition between a pre-A4 world and a post-A4 world would be seamless, easy, and would cost nothing. No new systems would need to be created. No one would be left in a lurch. It would all work fine and smoothly, just like before A4 was enacted.

        You can watch for yourself. Mills’ testimony to the Court was on March 6, 2017, and is available in the video library at The Florida Channel dot org.

        • Ian

          September 24, 2020 at 5:10 pm

          I meant to add that Mills said all that despite telling the Court that felons would have to pay all fines, fees, and restitution included in their sentences before they would regain the right to vote, which is how the federal appellate court ruled it should work. That is, the attorney for A4’s sponsor agreed with the Legislature and the appellate court when he testified before the Fla Supreme Court, and he said the transition would be easy-peasy. We now know that testimony was far from truthful.

        • Palmer Tom

          September 24, 2020 at 6:46 pm

          Nevertheless, the lack of a system that tells people whether they owe anything and how much and the reluctance to set up such a system tells us what is really going on regarding voter suppression in this state.

          • Ian

            September 24, 2020 at 8:38 pm

            There is no such lack. If a felon is sentenced to fines, fees, or restitution as part of his or her sentence, that information is provided to the felon when he or she is sentenced. It’s not kept a secret. It’s part of the sentence. Therefore, felons have already been told what (if anything) they owe. Why do they have to be told again?

  • Sam Ramos

    September 24, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    This is a small step, but at least this step is finally in the right direction.

  • Sonja Fitch

    September 24, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    Wtf The people do not even know what they owe!!!!!!!! Wtf! Dump
    The goptrump cult ! Bunch of racist sexist liars and scum! Desantis you are a damn fascist racist scum! You and Moody!Vote Blue! Vote Democrat up and down ballot

    • Ian

      September 24, 2020 at 6:02 pm

      Why don’t they know? Wasn’t it part of their sentence?

      • Tjb

        September 25, 2020 at 9:55 am

        What a lame defense Ian. In this state the money initially owed may be of a different amount at this time. Verification of the amount currently owed is a fair request.

        • Ian

          September 25, 2020 at 1:23 pm

          Nope. You haven’t read the law or reviewed the court rulings. When a felon is sentenced for a felony conviction and the sentence includes any financial obligations, those sums that are included in the sentence for the felony are the only ones that have to be completed in order for the felon to regain voting rights.

          So, let’s say the sentence contains a fine and a fee. The felon must complete the payment of those sums (and only those sums) for Amendment 4 to restore his voting rights. Any subsequent fees or fines unrelated to a felony sentence, or interest or penalties that get tacked on later, do not count against restoration of the felon’s voting rights. The sums that the felon was originally sentenced to pay are the only ones that count, i.e. those that were included in the sentence. Don’t believe me? Check out section 98.0751(2)(a)5.c., Florida Statutes.

          All this assumes the felon does not choose another avenue available under Florida Statutes. Under one of those avenues, a judge can modify the felon’s responsibility to have to pay financial obligations in the original sentence, and then the felon regains his voting rights. See section 98.0751(2)(a)5.d. and e., Florida Statutes.

Comments are closed.


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