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Andrew Warren gives felons who still owe fees chance to get voting rights back

The Hillsborough state attorney is setting up a process easing restrictions that the Legislature imposed on voter-approved Amendment 4.
State Attorney Andrew Warren announced a new process Tuesday to restore voting rights to people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences. [Times (2016)]

TAMPA — Hillsborough County residents who have served their sentences for crimes but still owe court debts can now apply through the state attorney’s office to have their voting rights restored.

On Tuesday, State Attorney Andrew Warren announced the creation of a process in which those eligible to vote again under Amendment 4 can submit an application, learn how much they owe the court system and work to get their case in front of a judge.

The move is meant to ensure that financial obligations don’t hold back those who want to register to vote.

“The idea that Amendment 4 would be available only to people who can afford it is unfair, it’s un-American and it’s unacceptable,” Warren said.

RELATED: Hillsborough State Attorney wants ‘rocket docket’ to restore felons’ voting rights

Amendment 4, approved by Florida voters in November 2018, automatically restored voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences including prison and probation. Those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses remain ineligible to vote.

In the spring, the Legislature passed a law saying the amendment only applies to felons who no longer owe court fines and fees.

Such costs are routinely tacked onto court cases but are seldom paid. In some cases, defendants still owe thousands of dollars long after they’ve finished their sentences.

Warren has expressed support for a so-called “rocket docket,” a special court that could eliminate the debts in a single hearing, speeding up the process through which people can register to vote. Miami and other jurisdictions have already taken this approach.

The challenge has been to identify those eligible.

RELATED: Can ‘rocket dockets’ restore voting rights? Hillsborough says yes. Pinellas says no.

Warren announced the application process in a Facebook live video. He entered the video frame backed by a light hip-hop style beat and sat in a chair alongside Jessica Younts, vice president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

They described a process for having the court costs waived for voting purposes. Felons still will owe the money.

The office of Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt will help review applications to determine how much individuals might still owe and whether they can ask to have the costs waived.

The application process only applies to those who came before a court in Hillsborough County. Anyone who wants to submit an application can find more information on the website of the State Attorney’s Office or the website of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

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