Amendment 4

Felons registering to vote.
Blaise Gainey / WFSU-FM

Most Florida felons had their voting rights restored after the passage of 2018’s Amendment 4. Earlier this year the legislature put in place a law that tied rights restoration to the repayment of all fines and fees. But, a ruling from U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle says the state can’t deny the right to vote based on a failure to pay, as long as a person genuinely can’t.

Wilfredo Lee / AP Photo

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the constitutionality of a law that allows certain felons to vote but requires them to pay any fees associated with their sentence first. Critics call the new rule a poll tax. But the bill’s author argues he simply followed the language voters approved in a 2018 amendment. Now the Judge presiding over the case is questioning whether the amendment itself violates the constitution. I spoke with ACLU lawyer Julie Ebenstein to get the groups' view.

Florida Supreme Court
Nick Evans / WFSU News

The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to answer Governor Ron DeSantis’s question about whether the state can make felons pay restitution, fines, and fees before allowing them to register to vote.

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, listens to the debate on his sponsored felon voting rights bill during session Wednesday April 24, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Steve Cannon / AP Photo

After a new law allowing some felons to regain the right to vote went into effect, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit calling the law unconstitutional. The group says the implementing bill doesn’t follow an amendment passed by voters. And argues the laws’ financial obligations create a poll tax and cut the number of eligible felons in half.

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, answers questions during debate over his House Bill 7089 - Voting Rights Restoration,Tuesday April 23, 2019 in the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla.
Phil Sears / AP Photo

The constitutionality of a Florida 2018 amendment allowing certain felons to vote after paying back fines, fees, and restitution is now at question. That comes after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the implementing bill.

During a hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle asked lawyers to weigh in on whether a 2018 amendment allowing certain felons to vote is constitutional.

A judge signs papers with a gavel on the desk.
memyjo / Adobe Stock

Federal Judge Mark Walker has recused himself from a key elections lawsuit after a defendant on the case hired a law firm that employs Walker's wife.

Gavel being struck with money in between.
Pakhnyushchyy / Adobe Stock

Voting Rights groups are challenging a new Florida law, saying it quote “violates the prohibition against poll taxes”. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill late Friday, it requires felons to pay court fines and fees before registering to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, and NAACP are all part of the lawsuit.

WFSU’s Blaise Gainey speaks with Julie Ebenstein, the lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who submitted the lawsuit.

Felons registering to vote.
Blaise Gainey / WFSU-FM

Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill implementing 2018's Amendment 4. When voters passed the amendment it was expected that nearly 1.5 million felons would be allowed to vote. But the Republican-dominated legislature passed an implementation bill that many say changes the intent.

Poll workers in training at the Leon County Supervisor of Elections office, 2016.
Tori Whitley / WFSU News

Floridians approved a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to most felons in November.  In May, Florida lawmakers passed a law requiring them to repay all financial penalties incurred at sentencing before they can register.

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Under the bill passed last month by the Florida Legislature, felons must prove they’ve paid all fees and fines connected with their crime before they can regain the right to vote. But Leon County Clerk of Court Gwen Marshall says the big problem is no way now exists to prove all payments have been made.

zimmytws / Adobe Stock

Since January 8, felons have been registering to vote as long as they’ve completed their sentence, and did not commit a felony sexual offense or murder. But all session long the legislature has been trying to determine exactly who that excludes. The current bill includes attempted murder, and also makes a felon have to pay off any outstanding civil liens or obligations to the court as a result of their case.

Wilfredo Lee / AP Photo

When amendments are made to the constitution sometimes they need legislation to be passed that would implement the change. Well this year lawmakers are doing that with 2018’s Amendment 4 which allows certain felons the right to vote after completing their sentence. There’s debate over whether implementing legislation is needed and WFSU’s Blaise Gainey reports both sides clashed during Thursday’s bill hearing.

Leon Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley
Leon Votes

Election supervisors say they can start registering felons to vote next month without legislative action. But one supervisor says there's one change that could make implementing Amendment 4 a bit easier.


Voter Ballot
MGN Online

  

Select felons who’ve completed their sentence will be eligible to vote come January 8th, following the passage of amendment 4. As Blaise Gainey reports Elections officials met this week to discuss how to add the roughly 1.5 million extra voters to the list.

Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM

Faith leaders and politicians gathered at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church Monday to voice support both for Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum in the race for governor, and Amendment 4. The Rev. R.B. Holmes prayed for both men vying for the governor’s mansion.

Voters cast their ballots (undated)
Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

Florida is one of only a few states that doesn’t automatically restore voting rights to felons who’ve completed their sentences. The fight goes back years and it's been waged both in court and in the court of public opinion. Now, voters themselves have the chance to weigh in with Amendment 4. It  would automatically restore rights to most felons. But there are exceptions that’s created a divide inside the main group pushing hardest for the change.

MGN Online

As Gov. Rick Scott’s Cabinet meets for its last clemency board meeting before the state’s general election, the conversation surrounding felon voting rights is ramping up. One amendment on the ballot could put a new restoration system in place.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott
The Florida Channel

Judge Mark Walker’s decision on Florida’s felon voting rights process has breathed new life into the restoration debate. By declaring the process unconstitutional and giving Governor Rick Scott a deadline to create a new system, Walker has opened the door to many scenarios.

Lance Cheung

Advocates are hopeful they’ll see legislation implementing tax breaks on solar energy pass the legislature this session. But they’re not happy with different parts of the House and Senate bills.

Voters didn’t hesitate to expand tax breaks for renewable energy, but some smaller counties are raising concerns as the Legislature decides how to implement Amendment 4.

Republican Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg won big in August when voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, his solar tax cut ballot measure.

The nation’s largest solar panel installer is setting up shop in Orlando, but activists say Florida has a way to go before earning the nickname “Sunshine State.” 

Lane Cheung via flickr

Tuesday Floridians voted overwhelmingly to lower taxes on solar equipment. But activists are bracing for another campaign – this one against a utility-backed amendment on the November ballot.

A grass-roots only political strategy appears to be working as supporters await the fate of Amendment 4, the Florida Legislature’s tax-cutting plan for promoting solar energy.

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