Amendment 4 Advisory
Our democracy hinges upon a citizen’s right to vote. Providing individuals with the opportunity to exercise this right is not only required by the United States Constitution but is a moral imperative. Florida was one of only four states that prevented convicted felons from voting. The public voted to change that in November 2018, when it passed Amendment 4 to the Florida Constitution.
Effective July 1, 2019, the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, an implementation law, Senate Bill 7066, which added Section 98.0751 to the Florida Statutes. The new law, described in more detail below, provides a mechanism to restore the voting rights for individuals convicted of certain felony offenses.
Restoring eligible felons’ right to vote is not just permitted, but right, just, and smart. In 2017, a Grand Jury investigated the potential effects of Amendment 4. The Grand Jury recognized that felons whose civil rights are restored, recidivate at a lower rate than those whose rights are not restored. This means that the restoration of voting rights for individuals convicted of certain felonies has the potential to make our community safer, save tax dollars, and allow more citizens’ voices to be heard.
In August 2019, we released the state’s first plan to implement Amendment 4 and Section 98.0751. Our plan, which resulted from a series of meetings with key stakeholders including:
- Honorable Carlos J. Martinez, Miami-Dade County Public Defender
- Honorable Eugene Zenobi, Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, 3rd District
- Honorable Harvey Ruvin, Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts
- Honorable Bertila Soto, 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida
- Senator Jason Pizzo, Florida District 38 (Miami-Dade County)
- House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee, District 117 (Miami-Dade County)
- Desmond Meade, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC)
Our plan was based, in part, on the language in Section 98.0751 that only required people to complete the terms and conditions identified in the four corners of the sentencing document. Since fees and costs normally are listed in the judgment or memorandum of costs, rather than the sentencing document, we believed they did not need to be paid before people could register to vote. That all changed on January 16, 2020, when the Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion finding that all financial obligations, including costs and fees, are part of the sentence and must be paid for the sentence to be complete.
This opinion impacted our procedures but not our determination to assist returning citizens. In cooperation with the Public Defender’s Office, Courts, and Clerk of Courts, we have amended our procedures to provide returning citizens who cannot afford to pay their financial obligations an opportunity to obtain relief from the courts by filing the appropriate motion and financial affidavit to modify sentence.