By Roger Caldwell, NNPA Newswire Contributor
As I wrote in a previous article, called ‘Amendment 4 Has Passed and Implementation Questions Start,’ “The passage of Amendment 4 was a political, ethical, and moral victory especially for Blacks and people of color in Florida. As many different organizations and different individuals take their victory lap, everyone must remember that the battle is not over.”
Florida is a red state. The Republicans control the Governorship, Cabinet, Senate and House of Representatives. Most of the appointees are conservatives and Republicans. Decisions are made with one thought in mind, and that is to remain in power.
In order to remain in power, our leaders have no problem erecting barriers that make it difficult to make changes. However, nearly 65% of Floridians in 2018’s midterm elections voted to implement Amendment 4, which restores voting rights to approximately 1.5 million convicted felons who have completed their sentencing, parole and/or probation.
Change in America is always slow and incremental. Most Floridians did not expect this amendment to be implemented quickly. However, most Floridians expected the will of the people would be honored and that the rule of law would prevail.
In Tallahassee in 2019, the Republican lawmakers are rushing forward to pass a bill that would sabotage Amendment 4, and keep over 80% of the 1.5 million former felons from voting. The bill would require former felons to pay all their fees and fines before their right to vote is restored.
This new bill proposal by the Republicans in Florida’s legislature is targeting low-income felons who cannot afford to pay these fines because the majority of them don’t have a job. This would once again make the constitutional right to vote for many former felons unattainable.
Southern Florida public radio station WLRN reported that the majority of such fines are never paid because most convicted felons do not have the resources to pay their fines. “Just 19% of the $1 billion in fines were paid between 2013 and 2018,” the outlet noted. Florida’s court clerks’ association says that 83% of fines are not expected to be paid off.
The Republican Party is sabotaging Amendment 4, and disenfranchising the former felons who are expecting to be able to vote. “In the worst tradition of Florida voter suppression, some lawmakers want to take the harshest possible line on implementing a constitutional amendment that arguably doesn’t even require the Legislature to interpret the constitution,” says the Orlando Sentinel.
The implementation of Amendment 4 is turning into one huge mess and voting is becoming a privilege instead of a right. This is not a surprise because the Florida state government has failed to implement citizen-driven ballot amendments in recent years.
At this time in the Florida legislature, the bill is in subcommittees and the Voting Rights Restoration Bill has passed in the House. Basically the bill requires ex-prisoners to pay all court costs and fines before they can vote. This week, the Senate subcommittee is voting on their version of the Voting Rights Restoration Bill, which is very similar to the House version.
Many are calling this a new poll tax and nationally there is outrage and condemnation. Even though there is fierce opposition from the Democrats, the bill is expected to move quickly in the Senate because the Republicans have the numbers. Political experts and pundits would tell the Democrats that the state is turning purple, but the vote in the Florida legislature is still primarily red.
Andrew Gillum and the Democratic Party in Florida have a goal to register one million new Democrats by the 2020 election.
Ex-Senator Bill Nelson lost by 10,000 votes and Andrew Gillum lost by 33,000 votes. Voting with the numbers on your side is the key to making Florida a blue state.
As a voter you have the right to put pressure on the Republicans lawmakers by calling or visiting their state and local offices. Let them know you are opposed to the sabotage of Amendment 4 and suppressing of the vote for ex-felons.