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Critics Call Bill On Felon Voting Rights Too Limiting

John Raoux
AP Photo

Public commenters gave lawmakers an earful today when the implementing bill for 2018’s Amendment 4 came up in a House committee meeting. The amendment allows certain felons to vote. But that raises the question which felons can’t vote?

Amendment 4 has been one of the most talked about amendments from the 2018 gubernatorial election. It allows felons who have not convicted murder or a sexual offense to vote, as long as they’ve completed all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.

During a hearing on a bill to implement the amendment, members of the public expressed their worry lawmakers are trying to change the meaning of the amendment. Some call the proposal unconstitutional. Kara Gross  of American Civil Liberties Union explained why.

“We are deeply concerned that CRJ3 is overbroad, vague, violates the separation of power and extends far beyond what any reasonable person would conclude the voters intended when they passed amendment 4. And therefore is unconstitutional,” said Gross.

The ACLU believes when trying to define what offenses are sexual for the matter of having voting rights restored, the legislature messed up.

“It includes too many offenses in the category of sexual felony offenses including offenses that are not sexual offenses as contemplated in the amendment," said Gross.

Some of those offenses included are human trafficking, and locating an adult entertainment store within 2,500 feet of a school. But Rep. James Grant (R-Tampa) who chairs the committee says he did the best he could, because there is nothing that describes what a felony sexual offense is.

“I would encourage everybody to remember that there is absolutely 0 legal significance to the terms felony sex offense, and yet voters walking into a ballot were forced to vote on something that said an exclusionary offense is a sex offense. I will give you an alternative had the language said sex offender that would’ve meant something,” said Grant.

In the end the bill made it through committee with those sexual offenses still attached but not without several lawmakers stating their discomfort with the bill.  Rep. Michael Greico (D-North Bay Village) is one of them.

“I will tell you that I only have two thumbs and their both down on this. And if I had more thumbs they’d be down as well," said Greico.

Rep. Michael Gottlieb (D-Plantation) who works as a criminal defense attorney also doesn’t like the proposal and believes it ultimately delays the implementation of the bill.

"As a criminal attorney I hear a saying all the time. And I’ve been a criminal defense practitioner for 25 years. And the saying is, justice delayed is justice denied. And what we’re dealing with here is we’re simply kicking the can down the street. So that individuals who should have the right to vote are not getting that right to vote longer. Because we have once again muddied the waters as it relates to restitution court costs or not, restitution fines or not," said Gottlieb.

The bill passed with no yes votes from a Democrat.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.