The group that fought to pass Amendment 4 in Florida last year that automatically restores voting rights to ex-felons is now fighting to raise funds to help ex-felons pay for their fines and court costs to allow them to have those rights restored.
But, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) appears to be having more difficulty raising donations to help ex-felons restore their voting rights than they did gathering votes to pass the amendment in the first place in November.
The Legislature passed a bill during this year’s legislative session setting guidelines for implementing the amendment.
The amendment automatically restores the voting rights of ex-felons who have paid their debt to society.
The measure is being challenged in the courts over what those debts include. The implementing law says they include fines, fees and legal costs.
FRRC estimates billions of dollars in fines and legal costs are owed across the state by an estimated 500,000 ex- felons. The group hopes to help pay off the fines, fees and restitution owed by some of those ex-felons in the state. A couple of weeks ago the group started a fundraising campaign to raise $3 million.
Within a couple of days of starting the campaign the group announced on its Twitter page that it already raised $70,000.
“In the first full day of the#FinesandFeesFund, we have raised over $70,000 to help Florida returning citizens fulfill lingering financial obligations and move on with their lives!” FRRC posted. “THANK YOU to everyone who has already given.”
But, in the two weeks since then, FRRC has collected just over $59,000 to help ex-felons.
According to its website Monday morning, the campaign has collected $128,680 of its $3 million goal. That’s just 4 percent of its target.
Most of the money generated by the campaign has come from 1,361 donors.
Democrats have called the requirements a “poll tax.”
“Requiring individuals who have fulfilled their time served to pay for the right to vote is unconstitutional,” said Senate Democratic leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. “The vast majority of Floridians who supported Amendment 4 never intended to pass a reincarnated poll tax. Their intent was to approve a second chance for returning citizens to participate in the democratic process.”
“To suggest that this is a poll tax inherently diminishes the atrocity of what a poll tax actually was,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, insisted during debate in the legislative session. “All we’re doing is following statute. All we’re doing is following testimony of what was presented before the Florida Supreme Court explicitly acknowledging that fines and court costs are part of a sentence.”