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Senators Question Voters' Intent On Amendment 4

Chris O'Meara
AP Photo

Lawmakers in the Senate today passed a bill that would implement Amendment 4, which allows certain felons to vote. But as Blaise Gainey reports proponents of the amendment say it’s self-enacting and the bill passed today isn’t needed and may not meet constitutional muster.

When voters in Florida passed amendment 4 in November they gave felons who’ve completed their sentences and did not commit a sexual offense or murder their right to vote back. But the legislature is now going a step further and making sure those who are not supposed to be voting, don’t. In order to do that St. Petersburg Republican Senator Jeff Brandes says his bill focuses on 3 things.

“that we define murder appropriately. That we clarify what is a sexual offense. But I don’t think there is any ambiguity in the discussion from the court or discussion from Dean Emeritus of Florida’s Law School Dean Mills, as he was the attorney representing the sponsors of this amendment, that fines and certain fees were incorporated within the 4 corners of the sentence," said Brandes.

The first objective listed was to define murder. The proposed legislation includes attempted murder which Orlando Senator Randolph Bracy attempted to remove with an amendment.

“I believe the language clearly says murder, so I think attempted murder falls outside of the purview of the constitutional amendment. So whether I agree with it, you agree with it, Chair Perry disagrees with it I still think were coloring outside of the lines on this issue," said Bracy

Those statements were backed by Kirk Bailey with the American Civil Liberties Union. They were one of the top supporting organizations for Amendment 4. He advised the legislature to remove the provision including attempted murder.

Brandes says he thinks attempted murder was part of the voter’s intent.

“I have to believe that the voters of the state of Florida recognized when they were voting for this that if an adult was to touch a child inappropriately, and that that child, in such a lewd manner that they would be convicted of a sex crime that would put them on the registry that they said that that adult would not be able to vote. They would have to go back to the clemency process in order to vote. But then to also say that if that adult was to beat that child to the point where that child was in a comma but not dead, that that person should be able to get, and then be charged with attempted murder and be convicted of attempted murder. But that that individual should have the right to vote. To me just philosophically just goes against what I believe the voters actually intended,” said Brandes.

That goes into the issue of defining sexual offense. The bill does that by defining a felony sexual offense as a felony offense that leads to a person being registered as a sexual offender.

There was little argument with that definition. The most controversial part of the issue resolves around what completion of a sentence means. Brandes citing the Florida Supreme Court hearing held to determine if the amendment could be placed on the ballot says completion of sentence includes fees and fines.

“This includes completion of terms of probation right?" asks Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson.

"Yes Sir, it specifically includes all matters included in the sentence. Including probation and parole so that means all matters anything that a judge puts in a sentence." answered University of Florida's Law School Dean Emeritus Jon Mills who appeared for the sponsor.

"So it would also include the payment of any fines?" asks Lawson.

"Yes, Sir” answers Mills.

To Brandes that testimony alone is enough to include fees and fines as a mandate for having right restored to eligible felons. However citing the actual constitutional amendment Senator Bracy, argues it doesn’t mention anything about financial obligations.

“In the written constitutional amendment, it does not say financial obligations have to be completed. So I don’t think were violating that language. But for me I feel like we are essentially telling these folks that they will never be able to vote," said Bracy.

He is right. The amendment says, quote ‘voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation’.

The language was kept but as multiple stops are made it is subject to change at any moment. Before it makes it to the Governor to ultimately be signed both the Senate and House’s versions will have to be identical. As for now they are still apart of the definition of sexual offenses. Other issues are likely to be ironed out as the bills make its way to their perspective chambers.

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.