Last November, the voters in Florida approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that said that “voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” It now appears likely, though, that few ex-cons will actually have those rights restored given a wrinkle in the implementation bill under consideration.
The initiative, approved by 64% of the voters on November 6, was largely the achievement of Desmond Meade, the leader of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Meade put together the signature drive that gathered enough names to get the franchise restoration bill on the ballot.
The required threshold for an amendment to the Constitution in Florida by way of ballot initiative is 60%, so this bill cleared that bar. Since then, a bill has been introduced that would increase the necessary super-majority to two thirds. But that bill, even if it becomes law, will not have retrospective effect.
Bill Galvano, the President of the Florida Senate, has said that in his view the language approved by the voters was self-executing: there was and is no need for further action by the legislature to make it law.
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The legislature is nonetheless proceeding as if the amendment does require implementing legislation. And the bill now under consideration says that felons may not vote until they’ve paid all the restitution, fines, and other fees associated with their sentence. Florida has been very draconian in the imposition of fees on its felons, so that such a bill could reduce the number of people who would actually benefit from the amendment from 1.4 million down to just 300,000 people.