Floridians with felony convictions will have to pay at least $1 billion in fines and fees before being allowed to exercise their newly restored right to vote under the terms of a new Republican-backed bill.
Last November, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4, which restored the voting rights of 1.5 million people who have felony convictions. Florida and two other states, Iowa and Kentucky, have Jim Crow-era lifetime bans against people with felony convictions written into their state constitutions.
Since then, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature has passed a measure imposing what has been likened to a Jim Crow-era poll tax, forcing newly re-enfranchised Florida residents to pay off outstanding fines and fees that they owe to the court before they are allowed to vote.
If signed as expected by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) the bill could stop tens of thousands of people, including disproportionately low-income residents and people of color, from voting.
Many people often owe thousands of dollars after they leave prison. And, as WLRN points out, those debts can follow people for decades.
Paying-off those large fees can prove especially challenging for people who have served time in prison and have a hard time finding work, let alone good paying jobs. The unemployment rate also is significantly higher for people of color.
But Republican lawmakers say paying off fines and fees is part of the sentence. Statewide, courts in Florida assessed over a $1 billion in fines to people with felony convictions, between 2013 and 2018, according to WLRN, while Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers reported that, on average, only 19% of the money-owed was paid back each year during that time.
While the total sum owed is unavailable statewide, the total amount in felony fines owed in just three of the state’s 67 counties eclipses $1 billion.
The amount in felony fines owed by both people currently serving and people who have been released totals $534 million in Broward County, $201.6 in Palm Beach County, and $278 million in Miami-Dade, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.