Friday, October 18, 2019

Amendment 4: Judge blocks law requiring fees, fines be paid before ex-felons can vote. (Orlando Sentinel)

Once again, Tallahassee Senior United States District Court Judge Robert Lewis Hinkle has vindicated our Constitution and Bill of Rights against the corrupt Republican-controlled legislature in the State of Flori-DUH.
Amendment 4: Judge blocks law requiring fees be paid before ex-felons can vote.
(Orlando Sentinel)
October 18, 2019

TALLAHASSEE – A federal judge issued a limited ruling Friday striking down a Florida law requiring felons to pay all fines and other costs related to their sentence before getting their right to vote back.
Judge Robert Hinkle’s order is a temporary injunction that applies only to the 17 plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit, not to all former felons in Florida.

But it indicates the new law passed this year by Republicans, requiring felons to pay outstanding fines and fees before they can register to vote, is likely to be struck down.
“Florida cannot deny restoration of a felon’s right to vote solely because the felon does not have the financial resources necessary to pay restitution,” Hinkle’s ruling states.

Florida lawmakers passed the law (SB 7066) to set up guidelines and rules for Amendment 4, which allowed ex-felons who completed “all terms of their sentence” to vote again. It was approved by 65 percent of voters in November. Previously, a panel made up of the Florida Cabinet decided whether to restore a felon’s rights, and they could restore or deny them for any reason.
Hinkle also ruled that while the state can’t bar felons from voting for lack of money, it can require them to prove they are unable to pay the fines, fees and restitution costs associated with their sentence.
Prior precedent “requires only that the State put in place an appropriate procedure through which an individual plaintiff may register and vote if otherwise qualified and genuinely unable to pay outstanding financial obligations,” Hinkle wrote.
In a statement, the ACLU wrote that “until Florida establishes this process, all other returning citizens who owe legal financial obligations are left waiting."
Julie Ebenstein, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the ruling “recognizes the gravity of elected officials trying to circumvent Amendment 4 to create voting roadblocks based on wealth.”
Desmond Meade, the Orlando-based head of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition who led efforts to get Amendment 4 on the ballot, was pleased with the decision despite its limited scope.

"The judge did lay out a pretty good argument, making it easier for people to feel a little bit more relaxed, and to understand there’s not an insurmountable barrier preventing folks from registering to vote,” Meade said.
Regardless of the injunction, Meade said, “We’re steadily moving forward, focusing on registering returning citizens and helping folks with fines and fees to remove that barrier.”
It’s unclear how the ruling will affect the operations of local election offices. Hinkle’s ruling only temporarily blocks the law, and the trial for the underlying case is set for April.
Some GOP lawmakers have said they’re looking to make changes in the law when the next legislative session begins in January, giving them time to tweak it before the trial begins, and possibly set up a system for felons to show they cannot afford their outstanding fines.
But in the meantime, municipal elections, including the upcoming mayoral and city council races in Orlando in November, will take place with the law is in limbo.
Meade said those local elections “will have a bunch of returning citizens voting for the first time. And they’ll play a significant role in the elections.”
Bill Cowles, Orange County supervisor of elections, had not had a chance to review the injunction Friday but said his office “will comply with the order, and monitor where it goes from there.”
A spokesman for the Florida Department of State, which oversees elections and defended the law in court, did not return an email seeking comment. or (850) 222-5564

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