Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

She owes $59 million. Should she be allowed to vote under Amendment 4?

Senators said they were sympathetic to pleas from felons, but voted along party lines on a bill that would make restitution a requirement of completing someone’s sentence.
Karen Leicht, who owes $59 million in restitution after pleading guilty to various federal insurance fraud charges in 2010.
Published Mar. 25
Updated Mar. 25

TALLAHASSEE — Karen Leicht works as a paralegal, has a passport and is a self-professed “cat lady.”

But she cannot vote — and likely never will — if a bill in Tallahassee gets signed into law.

That’s because Leicht, 61, owes $59 million in restitution after pleading guilty to various federal insurance fraud charges in 2010.

Under Republican lawmakers’ interpretation of Amendment 4, a ballot measure that passed last year, ostensibly restoring the right to vote to more than a million Floridians, Leicht would have to pay every penny back before getting back on the voter roll.

She and other former felons told a Senate committee Monday that this interpretation would mean a lifetime ban from voting, although they’ve finished prison and probation and have worked hard to live an honest life since.

“I’m like a citizen again,” Leicht said, “except for I still can’t vote.”

Coral Nichols, 40, told senators she owes $190,000 in restitution after being convicted of grand theft. She spent more than four years in prison and nearly 10 years on probation without a violation and now runs a nonprofit helping people with addiction.

Coral Nichols, who owes owes $190,000 in restitution after being convicted of grand theft.

She says she pays $100 per month toward her restitution, under a judge’s order. She would eventually be able to vote — in 190 years.

“I will be someone who will not be registered to vote if you pass this,” she said.

Senators were sympathetic to their pleas, but voted along party lines on a bill that would make restitution a requirement of completing someone’s sentence.

Unlike court fees and fines, which are mandated by state laws and county ordinances, restitution goes to pay back victims of crimes.

Under the Senate committee bill, court fees and fines wouldn’t count against someone’s sentence if the amounts are converted to a civil lien, which typically happens once someone has completed their probation.

The committee chair, Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville said he’s been an advocate for Amendment 4 and doesn’t want to hinder anyone’s chance to vote.

“This is one of the most transformative and best amendments this state’s ever passed,” Perry said.

But he and Vice Chair Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said they’re constrained by what it means to complete someone’s sentence, a term that’s in the amendment.

They pointed to testimony before the Florida Supreme Court by University of Florida law school Dean Emeritus Jon Mills, who argued on behalf of Amendment 4. Mills told justices that fees, fines and restitution could all be considered part of someone’s sentence.

Brandes also pointed to similar language on the website of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which helped pass Amendment 4 last year.

The bill will likely have to pass a few more committees before making it to the Senate floor, and Perry said he was open to reconsidering the stance on restitution along the way.

The two Democrats on Monday’s committee voted against the bill.

“I just feel like we are essentially telling these folks that they’ll never be able to vote,” said Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute is the centerpiece of Project Arthur, an 800-acre corporate park that could include up 24 million square feet of office and industrial space on nearly 7,000 acres of what is now ranch land, but targeted for development in central Pasco. Times
    The H. Lee Moffitt facility is the centerpiece of an economic development effort in a proposed 800-acre corporate park.
  2. Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. [News Service of Florida] News Service of Florida
    ‘We’re going to find out at some point in the future,’ one Republican said.
  3. Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa, left, and Robert Luck, right, were appointed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta by President Trump. Florida Supreme Court
    Ok losers, who needs access to our state politicians, anyway?
  4. Fox News host Tucker Carlson (left) and former national security adviser John Bolton Associated Press
    Carlson said Bolton was “one of the most progressive people in the Trump administration.”
  5. Wreckage left behind by Hurricane Michael. News Service of Florida
    Entire school systems are still recovering from long-standing damage and dealing with the disruptive aftermath of the storm.
  6. An aerial view of the AmericanAirlines Arena, of the Miami Heat. American is set to leave as the named sponsor by the end of 2019. DRONEBASE VIA AP
    BangBros, best known for filming sex scenes in vans, announced it had submitted a $10 million bid to replace American Airlines as title sponsor of the county-owned arena.
  7. From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. raise their hands to answer a question Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP
    This time, the Democratic debate showed clear policy differences. But which ones were factual?
  8. An architect's rendering shows part of a planned research center and hospital on N McKinley Drive in Tampa for the Moffitt Cancer Center. During the 2020 legislative session in Tallahassee, the center will seek an increased share of Florida's cigarette tax to finance the McKinley Drive project and other improvements. Moffitt officials said Thursday that the increase initially would finance $205 million, to be paired with $332 million they have already allocated for the project. Moffitt Cancer Center
    Florida lawmakers are the key to unlocking the money, which would pay for more hospital beds and research space.
  9. The Agency for Persons with Disabilities [Special to the Times]
    Potential changes could affect virtually every client that receives services through the state’s disabilities program, to save tens of millions from the agency’s bottom line.
  10. Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa, left, and Robert Luck, right, were appointed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta by President Trump. Florida Supreme Court
    Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck have been serving on Florida’s highest court since January.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement