JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Months after voters decided to restore voting rights for felons who have completed their sentence, the process is generating controversy on the national level.
Florida lawmakers are taking up the issue, where the definition of "completed sentence" has created a stumbling block. Almost 1.5 million former felons in Florida are waiting to see how the Legislature implements Amendment 4.
There’s debate and disagreement in the Capitol. The House implementing bill cleared its first committee with a vote down party lines.
Sponsor James Grant said he included a broad definition of disqualifying sexual offenses and completion of sentence in an attempt to stay as true to the amendment language as possible.
Jerod Powers regained his voting rights – after serving prison time for gun and drug charges. If lawmakers want to make sure felons’ financial obligations are met before they can vote, Powers doesn’t have a problem with it.
"I went and did my time," Powers said. "However, I feel I don't think that's the issue. I think there's just people who don't want to see me vote."
Powers agrees with critics of the bill, saying he feels the will of the voters isn’t being upheld.
"Let it go! Leave us alone," he said. "We finished our sentence. We're back in society. If we screw up again, they'll lock us up, and we won't be able to vote."
Under the old clemency system, felons were only obligated to pay fines and fees if they were specifically included in a judge’s sentence.
Supporters of Amendment 4 criticize the House bill as restricting “the ability to vote for thousands of Floridians, especially people who are poor, especially people of color.”
The state’s Association for Election Supervisors is praising the bill for providing clear direction to county officials.