Protecting Amendment 4 in Florida

In November, Florida voters passed Amendment 4 to restore the right to vote to 1.4 million returning citizens—but now, Amendment 4 is under attack. Nearly 65% of Floridian voters, spanning across broad racial, political, and geographic lines, supported rights restoration because they believe in Second Chances and creating a more inclusive democracy. The state legislature is now trying to undermine democracy and thwart the will of the voters.

Voting Rights Are Under Attack in Florida

How did Amendment 4 transform voting access in Florida?

Before Amendment 4, Florida was one of only four states that placed a lifetime voting ban on anyone with a felony conviction. Returning citizens could only regain their voting rights by undergoing an onerous clemency process. The Second Chances coalition in Florida successfully gathered over 1.1 million signatures (well over the 766,000 signatures needed) to place Amendment 4 on the November ballot, and it subsequently passed with almost 65% of the vote. Under the provisions of Amendment 4, returning citizens would automatically regain eligibility to vote after completing all terms of their sentence, unless they were convicted of murder or a sexual offense.

TAKE ACTION NOW

Your call in support of these crucial measures to protect voting rights makes all the difference! We need to make our voices heard to ensure that the state legislature does not undermine democracy and thwart the will of Florida voters.

CALL NOW!

How is the legislature trying to undermine Amendment 4?

Now, Florida state lawmakers are considering two pieces of legislation that would undermine Amendment 4 by broadening the definition of “completion of sentence” even beyond what was previously established by the clemency process, and by redefining what types of crimes are considered exempt from Amendment 4. The result: it will be more difficult for people who qualify for rights restoration under Amendment 4 to regain access to voting. These attempts by the legislature would place unnecessary, and arguably unconstitutional, restrictions on the eligibility to vote.

HB 7089 and SB 7086 would undermine Amendment 4 by changing the crimes that are exempt from voting restoration, and by including financial barriers to gain eligibility for voting.

Financial Barriers to Voting

Under the provisions of Amendment 4, financial debt is not considered a disqualifier for the purpose of restoring voting eligibility. But HB 7089 and SPB 7086 would change that.

  • HB 7089 would change the definition of “completion of sentence” to include full payment of all fines and fees, including costs not imposed by a judge. These additional financial obligations would create more barriers to regain access to voting. Under HB 7089, individuals who complete their sentence but still owe costs associated with conviction would not be eligible to vote. These financial obligations are not a part of a sentence, but simply the result of an inability to pay the original court fees. In addition, this bill would allow a non-judicial, government employee, or an independent private entity to attach sentence obligations outside of the original sentencing to prevent eligibility. This moves the finish line and distributes power outside of the courts.

  • SB 7086 defines “completion of sentence” to include fully paid fines, fees, and restitution, but only those imposed by a judge as part of the sentence, with exceptions for cases where personal collateral is held until any debt is paid, also known as a civil lien.

Financial barriers should not restrict Floridians’ voting rights. Individuals who have financial means would become eligible to vote, while others will remain indebted to the state with no option to gain access to voting.

Changing Crimes that are Exempt from Amendment 4

Amendment 4 automatically restored voting eligibility after completion of sentence, except for cases of murder and felony sexual offenses (defined as rape and sexual assault involving a minor).

  • HB 7089 expands the crimes under sexual assault to include prostitution and other broad sexual offenses, such as “sexting”.

  • SB 7086 expands the types of crimes considered as murder to include attempted murder and manslaughter, and expands the types of crimes included as sexual assault to include any crime that would require registration as a sex offender in Florida.

Amendment 4 passed with 65% of the vote and was meant to be self-implementing. Though there are slight differences between the Senate and the House bills, the topline is that both bills will significantly reduce the number of disenfranchised people that are eligible for voting restoration.

How We Win

State of Play

Florida is a red trifecta, meaning that Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship. But Amendment 4 passed with broad bipartisan support. Voters prioritized giving people second chances over partisan politics, and Florida lawmakers on both sides of the aisle also publicly supported the landmark amendment. We must continue to remind elected officials that voters spoke in November for voting restoration with no monetary restrictions.

HB 7089 passed with a favorable vote out of both the House Judiciary and State Affairs Committees. The House bill is expected to head to the House floor for a full vote soon.

SB 7086 passed with a favorable vote out of the Judiciary committee and must clear one more committee (Senate Rules) before the floor vote.

What You Can Do

Our advocacy against these bills is working. Each committee has made positive amendments to what are still ultimately bad bills. It is critical that we defend one of the most transformative re-enfranchisement in decades. Your voice had the power to pass Amendment 4 in November and has the power now to make an impact to defend it!

  1. Call your senator and representative and tell them to vote NO on these bills. Use our call script here!

  2. Show up in solidarity to support the testimony of returning citizens  when SPB 7086 is heard in the Senate Rules Committee.