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.


  1. Protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Tallahassee on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, while a federal judge heard arguments for an against the the Legislature's bill implementing Amendment 4. LAWRENCE MOWER  |  Lawrence Mower
    It’s unclear how state and county officials plan on complying with the judge’s order, however. The “poll tax” issued wasn’t addressed, either.
  2. The Florida Capitol. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The job entails being a part-time lobbyist, part-time expert on the Florida Sunshine Law.
  3. Florida K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva presents the state's second draft of academic standards revisions during an Oct. 17, 2017, session at Jefferson High School in Tampa. Gov. Ron DeSantis called for the effort in an executive order to remove the Common Core from Florida schools. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times staff
    ‘Our third draft will look different from our second,’ the chancellor explains.
  4. Igor Fruman, hugs Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis, right, as Lev Parnas looks on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando at the watch party for DeSantis. Fruman and Parnas were arrested last week on campaign finance violations. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    Florida’s governor has shrugged off past donor controversies. This time, there were photos. Now it’s not going away.
  5. The sun sets over a slab which once served as a foundation for a home on Mexico Beach in May. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Area leaders fear lower population numbers will lead to reduced federal funding and political representation.
  6. Senador de Florida, Rick Scott.  Foto: AP
    “The FBI has failed to give me or these families an acceptable answer, but I’m not going to allow that,” Scott said, adding that the FBI didn’t share pertinent information on shootings at Pulse, the...
  7. Courtney Wild, 30, was a victim of serial sexual offender Jeffrey Epstein beginning at the age of 14. Epstein paid Wild, and many other underage girls, to give him massages, often having them undress and perform sexual acts. Epstein also used the girls as recruiters, paying them to bring him other underage girls. Courtesy of Royal Caribbean
    Courtney Wild’s relentless quest for justice has led to a bipartisan push for sweeping reforms.
  8. Scott Israel, former Broward County Sheriff speaks during a news conference on Sept. 25, in Davie. A Florida Senate official is recommending that the sheriff, suspended over his handling of shootings at a Parkland high school and the Fort Lauderdale airport, should be reinstated. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Naples lawyer Dudley Goodlette was threatened shortly after he made his recommendation last month.
  9. Rep. Jamie Grant, R- Tampa and Senator Jeff Brandes, R- St. Petersburg listen to Amendment 4 debate in the Florida Senate on Thursday. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    “I think some of the points of the judge were well-made," Sen. Jeff Brandes said.
  10. Tiffany Carr — shown during a 2004 visit to a Hollywood nail salon, where she spoke on domestic violence — did not respond this past week to requests from the Miami Herald to address her $761,560 annual salary. She is head of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. [Bob Eighmie Miami Herald file photo]
    The Florida Department of Children and Families started a review of a domestic violence nonprofit’s finances last summer after it was reported that its CEO Tiffany Carr was paid $761,000. The state...