TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Backers of a constitutional amendment that restores the right to vote for felons continued to wrangle Tuesday with state lawmakers over legislation aimed at carrying out the measure.
The constitutional amendment, approved in November, granted restoration of voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.” The amendment excluded people “convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.”
But legislators have been grappling with definitions of “murder,” “felony sexual offense” and what it means to complete a sentence.
The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a proposal (HB 7089) that would require felons to repay restitution and all fees, fines and court costs — including those that have been converted to civil judgments — to be eligible for the automatic voting restoration.
The Republican-controlled committee voted along party lines to send the measure to the House floor for a full vote.
The revamped bill does not require felons to repay costs accrued while in prison, such as interest charges, surcharges or collection fees.
Rep. James Grant, a Tampa Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said it is necessary because “there is quite a bit of confusion” over the language in the amendment and that the Legislature is required to “do exactly what was put before the voters.”
Neal Volz, political director of a committee that backed the amendment, called the modified bill “a step in the right direction.”
But, he added: “We disagree with the notion that court costs and administrative costs should be part of the completion of sentence because of its impact on people that are trying to exercise these rights.”
Grant, however, accused supporters of the amendment of changing their positions about what would exclude felons from automatic restoration.
“I honestly don’t know how to keep up because it is almost like boxing a ghost,” he said.
According to an analysis of the amendment by state economists, the constitutional change could open the door to voting for about 700,000 Floridians.
A similar Senate proposal (SB 7086) needs to clear one more committee before it could go to the full Senate.
Under the Senate plan, only restitution would have to be repaid in full for felons to have their voting rights restored.
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