Florida Lawmakers Advance Bill Undermining the Right to Vote

By Jeralyn Cave

This week, Florida’s Senate Committee on Criminal Justice voted to advance SB 7086, a reckless bill that, if passed, would undermine the will of Floridians in restoring the voting rights of 1.4 million residents with prior felony convictions. The legislation represents a desperate attempt by lawmakers to maintain power by limiting the number of people who are eligible to get on the voting rolls. Instead of supporting the will of the voters to grant voting rights, lawmakers are trying to change the rules of the game under the guise of “clarifying Amendment 4.”

The bill would limit the number of Returning Citizens who can get back on the voter rolls by expanding the definition of certain offenses that would make them ineligible to register. (While Amendment 4 opens access to the vote for Floridians with felony convictions, it includes several limited exceptions. The proposed legislation expands those exceptions). For example, the bill increases the number of offenses categorized as “sexual felonies,” for which a person can be permanently disenfranchised. It would also expand the definition of murder – a crime that also makes one ineligible to vote – to include attempted murder. (Yeah … we are definitely giving this the side-eye).

In direct contradiction to the intent of Florida voters, the bill could permanently disenfranchise poor people by changing the definition of “completion of sentence” to include even civil (yes, as in NON-criminal) judgments. Can’t pay back your $300,000 in fines within your lifetime? Too bad; you can’t vote. Maybe not ever. (We literally could not make this stuff up!)

Below is a great nugget from a great witness, Karen Light, an Amendment 4 advocate.

“Forty-six (46) other states allow convicted felons the right to vote without considering their restitution that has been converted to a civil judgment. So why should Florida be any different? Amendment 4 was overwhelmingly passed to remove the final vestiges of the Jim Crow law. That’s what it’s about.”

Watch the full playback of the hearing and listen to the remarks of advocates in opposition to the legislation. (Start watching at the 25:18 time mark).

Sign the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition petition to demand lawmakers protect Amendment 4. Read Advancement Project National Office’s latest report, Democracy Rising, to learn why fully implementing Amendment 4 is so critical for many Florida communities.