The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday confirmed the voting status for ex-felons, ruling that they must pay all fines, fees and restitution before having their right to vote restored under Amendment 4.
In an advisory opinion that came after a request from Governor Ron DeSantis, the court ruled that Amendment 4’s language stating that “all terms of sentence” needed to be completed before voting rights would be restored “can only reasonably be understood to similarly encompass ‘the ultimate sanctions imposed,’ including ‘costs.’ … [Or] the phrase encompasses ‘all obligations’ or ‘all matters.’”
The amendment was passed by 65 percent of voters in the 2018 election, while its implementing bill was passed last year by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
DeSantis tweeted following Thursday’s decision:
I am pleased that @FLCourts confirms that Amendment 4 requires fines, fees & restitution be paid to victims before their voting rights may be restored. Voting is a privilege that should not be taken lightly, and I am obligated to faithfully implement Amendment 4 as it is defined.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) January 16, 2020
During the 2018 campaign, proponents for the amendment had acknowledged that fines and restitution could be considered as part of “all terms” that needed to be completed before a former felon’s rights were restored.
As the 2019 legislative session began, language in some drafts of an implementing bill mentioned additional civil and private fees.
That additional language was ultimately not included in the final version, although the situation led some Amendment 4 proponents to argue more strongly that fines or fees should not be considered part of “all terms.”
Several Democrats also referred to the requirement as a “poll tax” that is banned by the Constitution.
Lawsuits by groups such as the Florida League of Women Voters and the ACLU against the fines and fees requirement are still pending.
Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga dissented partially from his colleagues, writing that although he agrees that the “all terms” language included fines and fees, he does not believe that the language was “unambiguous” and had an “ordinary meaning that would have been understood by voters.”