Democratic lawmakers want to end ‘slavery and involuntary servitude’
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Bills filed in the House and Senate would put an end to prison labor.

One might think a bill called “Prohibition of Slavery and Involuntary Servitude” isn’t necessary since the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865, but two Florida lawmakers disagree.

Sen. Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach and Rep. Dianne Hart of Tampa have filed companion bills (SJR 392 and HJR 39) that would create a new section in the Florida Constitution outlawing forced prison labor.

Hart filed her bill in August, her second attempt to pass the legislation. She withdrew her previous bill after it failed to garner a companion in the Senate last Session. Powell filed his companion bill Friday. Both ask that an amendment to the state Constitution go before voters at the next General Election or at a Special Election.

“We’re definitely working our inmates for free,” Hart said. “We definitely have companies taking our prison labor for free. It’s not fair.”

If voters agree, Section 28 would be added under Article I to read, “Prohibition on slavery and Involuntary servitude — No person shall be held in slavery or involuntary servitude in the state, including as a penalty or punishment for a crime.”

Right now, other Southern states use inmates for labor that would otherwise be paid. Hart said the idea came to her after talking with other leaders from other states that are doing away with programs. It only makes sense, she said.

She said other states have stopped the practice recently. And the movement to end free labor is mirrored in federal legislation proposed last year, the Abolition Amendment. The legislation generated sponsors among star progressive members of Congress, including Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings, who has since died, and Frederica Wilson of Miami. Independent Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders also backs such measures.

Hart said inmates are often used on road crews, but she said she didn’t want to call out companies that are using the labor. The Florida Times-Union published a detailed report about it in 2018.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • William Freeman

    October 5, 2021 at 2:16 am

    Because of the Amendment 4 passing and was made to pay court cost i think that anyone that does any work in prison should receive community service hours to pay court cost. It should be a win win for all parties. An individual coming home from prison can get his/her rights restored and be able to vote if they chose to do so. As a returning citizen I know that it was hard to gain employment with out driving so they can prepare themselves for the DMV as well.

  • Kenneth

    October 11, 2021 at 11:19 pm

    Sorry but removing the question before any legislation is negative law practice enforcing slavery, involuntary servitude. It also removes positive law Ex post facto of current slaves of statutes, goes 100% against a voluntary legislation. Care to parley over this fact?

Comments are closed.


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