Former felons would have to pay back all their court fees before being allowed to vote despite the idea being blasted by critics as a “poll tax,” according to a Senate committee bill filed Wednesday dealing with the rollout of Amendment 4.
But the bill differs in important ways from a House committee bill that passed along party lines on Tuesday, leading to claims that the state’s Republican-led Legislature was trying to curtail one of the biggest expansions of voting rights in decades.
The Senate committee’s proposed bill would require felons pay fees only required by a judge as part of the person’s sentence, according to Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair Keith Perry, R-Gainesville.
The House version requires felons pay back all fees, including those not part of a person’s sentence.
“Interest on things not imposed by a court, other fines or fees not imposed on by the court, are not part of this,” Perry said. “The goal is not to deviate outside, at all, in what the voters voted on."
The Senate committee’s version would likely allow more felons to vote than the House version.
When Amendment 4 passed in November with 64 percent of the vote, it allowed more than a million former felons the chance to have their voting rights restored, as long as they weren’t convicted of felony “murder or sexual offenses.”
The Senate version has a broader interpretation of “murder," to include attempted murder and felony manslaughter, according to the bill. The House version sticks to just “murder.”
“If you tried to murder somebody, you acted it all out, you just didn’t succeed, is the question,” Perry said.
But the House version has a broad interpretation of “felony sex offenses," to include a wide array of any sort of sexual felony, including prostitution.
The Senate committee’s version sharply narrows it to just crimes that would require someone to register as a sex offender and a handful of other offenses.
Advocates for Amendment 4 have argued that the Legislature should do nothing after Amendment 4 passed, instead leaving it up to elections supervisors and the courts to sort out. Already, supervisors are registering felons.
And they say that requiring felons to pay back court fees and other costs of supervision, like drug tests while on probation, would delay people from being able to vote.
But elections supervisors have asked for clarification on how to define “sexual offenses,” and for a way for them to easily check if a former felon is eligible to vote.
Both bills will likely be amended several times as they go through committees.
The Senate’s version will likely be amended so that more people will be allowed to vote, according to Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who has been one of the Legislature’s leading advocate on criminal justice reforms and the vice chair of the Criminal Justice Committee
“I think you’ll see it be further narrowed,” Brandes. “There’s lots of conversations going on right about this proposed committee bill. I think you’ll see a number of amendments filed.”
The Senate committee bill could be heard as early as Monday.