By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
January 22, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- More than one million Floridians with felony convictions are expected to have their voting rights restored under Amendment 4. The restoration went into effect earlier this month, but lawmakers are discussing possible legislative action to make sure the will of the voters is carried out.
Between testimony from supervisors of elections and state agency heads, it quickly became clear to lawmakers many questions still need to be answered. The most pressing: who qualifies for rights restoration and how do they and supervisors know if a sentence has been completed?
“Clearly, we want to maximize people's opportunity to vote, but we also very clearly need to follow the voters' intent, which is that all terms of the sentence be completed,” said Senator Jeff Brandes.
Lawmakers are also looking at how to ensure the process of registering felons who have completed their sentence is fast and streamlined. An estimated 50,000 people in the state complete their felony sentences each year.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which got the amendment on the ballot, wants to ensure lawmakers don’t try and narrow the scope of the amendment.
“More than a political science exercise or a legal discussion, this is ultimately a discussion about real people's lives,” said Neil Volz with the Coalition.
The amendment specifically excludes murderers and sex criminals, but lawmakers say even that has to be defined.
Desmond Meade with The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition argues lawmakers should consider testimony it collected from voters while drafting the amendment.
“They had a problem with a person that was convicted of first degree murder, people that commit rape, people that commit sexual offenses against children,” said Meade.
Some of the senators, like Kieth Perry, have a more broad view.
“First degree murder, I don't think it was that intent. I think murder in a general sense,” said Perry.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition says it will be bringing people directly affected by Amendment 4 to the capitol in March to meet with lawmakers to help inform them about any potential legislation.