Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he will sign a controversial measure that would require repayment of financial obligations before felons’ voting rights are restored.
“I’ll sign it,” DeSantis said while at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science to discuss environmental issues from the legislative session that ended Saturday.
“The (constitutional) amendment says, if you read it, you have to complete your sentence,” DeSantis continued. “And I think most people understand you can be sentenced to jail, probation, restoration if you harm someone. You can be sentenced with a fine. People that bilk people out of money, sometimes that is an appropriate sentence. That’s what the constitutional provision said. I think the Legislature just implemented that as it’s written.”
The legislation (SB 7066) is aimed at carrying out a constitutional amendment that granted restoration of voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.”
The proposal, which appeared on the November ballot as Amendment 4, excluded people “convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.”
But Democrats and many other Amendment 4 supporters say the legislation is too restrictive and would block people from being able to vote, with some comparing the need to fully pay restitution to a poll tax.
DeSantis, who had not formally received the bill from the Legislature as of Tuesday, rejected the characterization.
“The idea that paying restitution to someone is the equivalent to a tax is totally wrong,” DeSantis said. “The only reason you’re paying restitution is because you were convicted of a felony.”
Earlier in the day, the League of Women Voters of Florida held a conference call with reporters urging DeSantis to veto the Amendment 4 implementation bill. Also, the group called for vetoing other bills that passed during the session, such as a measure that would make it harder for citizens’ initiatives to reach the ballot (HB 5); a wide-ranging school safety bill that would expand the school “guardian” program (SB 7030); and a bill aimed at building or expanding three toll roads in mostly rural regions of the state (SB 7068).
Critics of the felons’ rights legislation contend it would create unjustifiable barriers to voting.
“Politicians this session disregarded the will of over 5 million Florida voters who supported Amendment 4 when they passed legislation that restricts the right to vote based on who can afford to pay,” said Kirk Bailey, political director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida who was on the call.
Bailey noted, without going into detail, his group is exploring legal options to challenge the bill.
Bailey also said he hopes lawmakers will reconsider the Amendment 4 implementation during the 2020 legislative session, a move that is unlikely as little change is expected in the leadership of the Republican-dominated House and Senate.
DeSantis also noted while in Miami on Tuesday that he may have an announcement later this week on a separate bill (HB 771) that would prohibit local governments from enforcing regulations on plastic straws over the next five years.
Currently, 10 cities across the state have rules governing the use of plastic straws, which have drawn environmental concerns.
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