Florida bill calling for ex-felons to settle debts before voting advances after House vote

The Florida House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would require former felons to pay all court fees and costs in addition to restitution before becoming eligible to vote.

The measure passed 71-45, with the vote along party lines.

The proposal's main sponsor, state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, argued that the bill -- which would not restore voting rights to those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses -- helps clarify a referendum on the issue that voters approved in November. He stressed that requiring ex-felons to pay the debts was not unconstitutional and not discriminatory, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

But state Democrats -- as well as some Democratic candidates for president -- slammed the proposal as a form of "poll tax" that would discriminate against minorities and the poor. Poll taxes were historically used in the 1890s to bar impoverished African-Americans in Southern states from voting by requiring them to pay a fee.


The referendum that passed in November was meant to end the disenfranchisement of more than 1 million felons who served their time, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., both of whom are seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, have slammed the bill, bringing national attention to the Florida plan.

"This is a poll tax," Booker wrote Wednesday.

“Enough with the racist and unconstitutional efforts to deny people the right to vote," Sanders wrote Wednesday. "If you are an American citizen you must be able to vote. End of discussion."

Sanders sparked a furor Monday when he said during a CNN Town Hall event that even convicted criminals like Boston Maraton bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be allowed to vote from prison. President Trump's campaign fired back that Sanders' position was "deeply offensive."

"The extremity and radicalism of the 2020 Democrats knows no bounds,” Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News. “Giving imprisoned terrorists, sex offenders, and murderers the right to vote is an outrageous proposal that is deeply offensive to innocent victims across this country, some of whom lost their lives and are forever disenfranchised by the very killers that 2020 Democrats seek to empower."


While the Florida House version of the bill requires all court fees and restitution be paid, the Senate version calls for ex-felons to pay only restitution, the Miami Herald reported. The Senate will have to deliberate which version, if either, will advance to the governor's desk.

Fox News' Sally Persons and Alex Pappas and the Associated Press contributed to this report.