When my father-in-law took ill, I used to get headaches and fell into opioid addiction. I got caught selling and served 15 months behind bars. I had nothing on my record at the time, not even a speeding ticket.
I came out clean and kicked my addiction. I earned a college degree in finance and accounting and received a bachelor's degree at age 56. Now I focus on caring for my grandkids and my job as an office manager for a company in Pompano Beach. I am not a hardened criminal.
Voting is important to me. Far too many people who don't vote say that your vote doesn't count. But it does. Some major elections come down to just a few votes. Going to the polls and casting a ballot is an exhilarating feeling, and a chance to speak my mind politically.
But hanging over my head are these never-ending court fees that I must pay off. I currently make $13 an hour, and have a mortgage and car payments, so I don't have $4,000 to hand the court. Under my current payment plan, I will be paying fines and fees to St. Lucie County until 2031.
As a Floridian, I badly want to vote. So I was excited after Amendment 4 passed in November with 65 percent of the vote. I reached out to the Campaign Legal Center, which hosts RestoreYourVote.org, a website helping people with past convictions understand and restore their voting rights.
Now the Florida Legislature moved to approve a bill last week that prevents people with past convictions from voting until they pay all restitution, fines and fees. I'm concerned that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign it into law. This is personal. If Florida legislators get their way, I won't be able to vote until 2031. For me, it's a poll tax. I served my time and am working to pay off my fees, and I don't think that should prevent me from voting. After being incarcerated, I lost everything. I came out of prison with nothing but my son's clothing and had to start from scratch. So why should I lose the ability to vote too? If this bill becomes law, I won't be able to vote for 12 more years, and the progress made by Amendment 4 could go unrealized.
It seems like former Gov. Rick Scott wanted to make people jump through hoops to get their voting rights back. Politicians like him — and the current leadership — say they want stronger punishment for felons because they want to seem tough on crime. I've voted for Republicans. The last vote I cast was in 2004 for George W. Bush. Politicians should not broadly categorize people as felons. Individuals should get a second chance. That second chance isn't real if it depends on the size of your paycheck. People should be able to get their rights back without jumping through all these hoops.
The author, who is 58, has lived in Florida since she was 17 and currently resides in Boynton Beach.