Last week, Florida’s House set things in motion with regard to mandating felons meet certain “financial obligations” before having their voting rights restored, and now Florida’s Senate has followed suit.
The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would allow felons to vote, but only after “all financial obligations ordered by a judge” were paid, the Associated Press reports.
The Senate and House bills are in response to Florida voters in November voting in support of a state constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to most felons (not those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses) once they served their time.
But Florida’s Republican lawmakers say “time” includes court-mandated fees or restitution and the like, thus the monetary language.
And to critics who say the proposal would amount to a modern-day poll tax?
The answer, as AP explains:
Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said he wishes his bill could be more lenient, but the language of the amendment said all terms of a sentence have to be completed, and that includes restitution, court costs, fines and fees ordered by a judge. He said that language doesn’t give the Legislature any leeway to ignore it.
“My heart is in a different place, and I would love to go farther,” said Brandes, who cited his Christian upbringing and the story of Jesus having dinner with sinners. “It should be our place to always try to seek mercy over sacrifice. So we will continue to work toward that goal, we will continue to work toward that end ... In the context of this bill, I have gone as far as I can.”
Uh-huh. And Florida’s Democratic caucus seems to agree with such an assessment, as AP reports:
That’s an obstacle Democrats say wasn’t intended when 64.5 percent of voters decided to let felons vote once they’ve completed their sentences.
Democratic state Sen. Perry Thurston put it this way:
“Do we want one uniform system of voting where people pay their time, they get to vote again? Or do we want to just say, ‘Here we go again: Floriduh,’”
Look, if paying one’s bills were the key to being able to vote, a large segment of all Americans would be disenfranchised.