Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) wants the state’s Supreme Court to rule on whether convicted felons should have to pay off fines and fees before they can get their voting rights restored under a new constitutional requirement approved by voters.
Florida voters last year voted to allow felons to automatically have their voting rights restored after serving their sentence. Lawmakers then passed a bill implementing the requirement, but that measure also requires felons to first pay off all fees and fines before they may have their rights restored. Backers of the amendment have since sued in federal court, saying that condition thwarts the intent of the voters by continuing to make it difficult for felons to reclaim their voting rights. That lawsuit remains pending.
A University of Florida study has suggested that fewer than 20 percent of felons released in the state have paid off their fines.
DeSantis has asked the Florida Supreme Court for an opinion on whether the phrase “completion of all terms of sentence” includes payment of financial obligations. If the state’s justices say criminals must pay off financial obligations to pay their debt to society then it could bolster the state’s defense of its new law in federal court. The DeSantis administration has asked the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit. (SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE, ASSOCIATED PRESS)