Florida state lawmakers are under fire for passing legislation critics call a “modern day poll tax” on the state’s newly re-enfranchised felon voters.
The legislation, H.B. 7089, would undermine last year’s successful ballot initiative to restore voting rights for more than a million Floridians who have completed felony sentences by requiring them to pay all court fines and fees before they can participate in elections.
The bill passed Florida’s Republican-controlled state House 71-45 Wednesday, largely along party lines. Though it still needs final approval from state senators and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, progressive politicians, voting rights advocates, and civil liberties groups are speaking out against it.
Kara Gross, the ACLU of Florida’s legislative director, warned that “disturbingly, this legislation will cause de facto lifetime disenfranchisement for large swaths of formerly incarcerated individuals who have completed their sentences—precisely the opposite of the entire purpose of Amendment 4.”
As Common Dreams reported last November, some 64 percent of voters supported the amendment to the state constitution to allow people who have served their sentences—excluding those convicted of murder or felony sexual crimes—to vote. The “huge and hard fought victory,” was celebrated as a repeal of “one of the country’s worst Jim Crow laws” and “the largest expansion in voting rights since the Voting Rights Act.”
Opponents charge that the legislation defies the will of Florida voters and, as Gross put it, “merely replaces one unjust system for another.”
“Florida’s citizens spoke clearly on election day—1.4 million disenfranchised individuals deserve a second chance,” said Gross. “This historic citizens initiative will only be thwarted by this legislation.”
“The Florida House just subverted their wishes by passing a poll tax that will continue to disenfranchise low-income citizens,” tweeted Georgetown University public policy professor Don Moynihan.
Neil Volz, political director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which led the fight for the constitutional amendment, told HuffPost in a statement that the “partisan vote in the House represented a failure to live up to the bipartisan commitment Florida voters showed with the passage of Amendment 4.”
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