Update: The battle over the Voting Rights Restoration Amendment continues, but in the meantime, you have two ways you can help support returning citizens who are seeking to have their voting rights restored:
- Donate to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition’s Fees and Fines Fund
- Volunteer as a pro bono attorney, including CLE courses provided by LWVFL
And if you want to learn more about applying for help for yourself or a loved one, visit FRRC’s Amendment 4 Fees and Fines Review.
In November 2018, Amendment 4 was approved by nearly 65% of the Florida electorate. The amendment – which restored voting rights to felons who had served their full sentence and who had not been convicted of murder or felony sexual assault, and was hailed as one of the largest restorations of civil rights in recent years.
In the months since its passage, Amendment 4 has been the source of much confusion and controversy as lawmakers, voting rights advocates and elected officials tried to sort out the specifics of its implementation.
What the Passage of Senate Bill 7066 May Mean for Amendment 4
In May, the Florida Legislature passed a wide-ranging bill – CS/SB 7066 – covering a variety of subjects related to election administration. The final version of the bill contains several items specific to Amendment 4, which include:
- Broadening the definition of serving one’s complete sentence to include the payment of all court fees, fines and restitution before being eligible to register to vote;
- Granting judges the right to waive those financial penalties and/or replace them with community service;
- Expanding the definitions of “murder” and “felony sexual assault;”
- Establishing the Supervisor of Elections as the party who makes the final determination as to whether a person’s voting rights have been restored.
As of June 2, the bill is on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk awaiting his signature, and he has indicated that he plans to sign it. The law, if signed, will go into effect on July 1.
However, despite the passage of this bill, it’s still unclear as to what shape the final law will actually take, how it will be implemented and where former felons (also known as “returning citizens”) will find definitive information on the status of their sentences.
How Can You Determine If You Owe Fines, Fees or Restitution?
One of the challenges facing those affected by Amendment 4 – including returning citizens and supervisors of elections – is navigating Florida’s complex criminal justice bureaucracy. That can make it difficult for an individual to determine how much they owe and to whom they owe it.
The Tampa Bay Times published an article on May 26 that aims to help returning citizens and their loved ones know how to determine if and what they owe in fines. They suggest returning citizens do the following:
- Check the case file online with their county court. (Here is the link for Pinellas County.)
- Look up their file using their full name and check the section labeled “financial.” If the amount listed there is not $0, then the individual still owes money to the court.
- Contact Probation Services through the Department of Corrections to see what, if any, restitution is owed. (Restitution is not tracked through the clerk of the court.)
More details remain to be worked out, such as whether this system will be streamlined to make it simpler for elections officials to determine if all court fees and restitution have been paid, or how returning citizens can seek to petition the court to have their fees and restitution waived in favor of community service.
The Leagues of Women Voters of Florida and the St. Petersburg Area are closely monitoring the progress and implementation of this law. We will make sure to update our communities with the latest information regarding Amendment 4 and the restoration of voting rights to returning citizens as soon as that information becomes available.
Caitlin Constantine is a director for the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area and the co-chair of the Voter & Election Protection action team.