The Florida Supreme Court weighed in on Amendment 4 confirming that all sentencing terms must be completed by felons to become eligible to vote which includes fine payments. Passed by Florida voters in 2018, the amendment provided voting rights restoration.
Original proponents of this change looked for immediate relief to the over 6 million voters ineligible due to felony convictions. Clarification of the process came from Senate Bill 7066 in 2019 defining what was meant by “all terms of a sentence must be satisfied”. All meant everything, including the payment of fines.
Voter advocacy groups argued that forcing payment on these open fines unjustly oppressed those who could not afford to pay. However, the recent Supreme Court opinion requested by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis confirmed the legislative process.
What can be done to solve the debt obligation for those who struggle to pay? The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition has been working with Florida Clerks of Court to overcome that financial hurdle. Their Amendment 4 Funds and Fees Fund seeks private donations to help pay financial obligations.
In addition to the coalition’s assistance, Clerks are negotiating unpaid balances. In a recent coalition event, the St. Lucie Clerk of Court reduced felony judgments by 25% and settled 24 cases totaling $13,331.55 in court fines. The Hillsborough Clerk of Court discounted felony judgments by up to 40% in a similar event.
State Attorney Andrew Warren of Hillsborough County is working with the Public Defender on a new court procedure that allows felons to apply for relief of outstanding fines. This application process leads to a judicial review for a waiver of remaining costs.
Despite these efforts over 6 million adults in Florida still can not vote until all terms of their sentence are completed. Clerks of Court should continue reviewing cases and negotiating unpaid balances. Community service should also be considered in lieu of fine payments. Each of these options along with similar efforts provided by the Hillsborough State Attorney and Public Defender requires dedicated case by case focus. These matters take time and time is running short. Florida’s primary races in 2020 will commence on March 17th.