Formerly incarcerated Floridians will have to pay billions in fines to have their voting rights restored after Republican lawmakers overruled voters to add a stipulation to an amendment that would have restored those rights automatically.
Republicans last month passed a bill revising Amendment 4, which was overwhelmingly passed to automatically restore voting rights to 1.4 million ex-felons (7 percent of the entire state’s population) as long as they weren’t convicted of murder or sexual assault. Under the bill, people who want their rights restored will have to pay all outstanding court fines and fees. The bill is expected to be signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
According to an analysis by Florida news outlets, the total amount of money that will cost is in the billions.
State courts in Florida assessed over $1 billion in fines to people with felony convictions between 2013 and 2018 alone, according to WLRN. Florida Court Clerks and Controllers reported that more than a billion in fines were assessed between October 2017 and September 2018. The total amount in felony fines owed in just three of the state’s 67 counties is well over $1 billion, The Sun-Sentinel reported. The total number is unavailable but is clearly in the billions of dollars.
Democrats call bill a “poll tax”:
“It’s blatantly unconstitutional as a poll tax,” Democratic Rep. Adam Hattersley told the Tampa Bay Times.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, many ex-convicts have difficulty paying off fines because the unemployment rate is five times higher than for those who haven’t been incarcerated, and even higher for black ex-convicts.
Florida fines are also very high.
“Third-degree felonies can carry a $5,000 fine, second- and first-degree a $10,000 fine and life felonies a $15,000 fine. And none of these numbers include fees and other court costs, or restitution to victims that courts may impose on felons,” the Sun-Sentinel reported. “Those convicted of trafficking [marijuana] who are caught with 25 to 2,000 pounds or more than 300 plants face a $25,000 fine. If it’s 2,000 to 10,000 pounds or more than 2,000 plants, the sentence comes with a $50,000 fine. And for amounts over 10,000 pounds or 10,000 plants, the fine is $200,000.”