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The New New Jim Crow

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In 2018, Florida’s electorate voted to enfranchise felons. Florida Republicans — big fans of minority rule for obvious reasons — appear poised to respond with…a poll tax:

Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace is shown in this Oct. 19, 1964 photo speaking in Glen Burnie, Md. at a rally supporting Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater. (AP Photo)

Last November, Florida passed a ballot measure to reenfranchise as many as 1.4 million people with felony records, the largest expansion of voting rights in decades. But less than six months after the historic move, state lawmakers are considering legislation that would make it harder for some of them to vote by requiring them to first finish paying all court fines and fees.

Before the ballot measure went into effect in January, Florida was one of only four states that permanently blocked former felons from participating in elections, a policy that traced back to the Jim Crow era and kept 10 percent of Floridians—and 1 in 5 African Americans in the state—off the rolls. Amendment 4 restored voting rights to Florida citizens with felony records who had completed their sentences (except for those who were convicted of murder or sex crimes).

State lawmakers now argue that aspects of Amendment 4 are confusing and require clarification. On Tuesday, a House subcommittee approved a bill that would prevent people with felony records from voting until they finish paying all court fines and fees, including “any cost of supervision” like parole, even if those fines and fees were not spelled out by a judge as part of the person’s original sentence. Previously, people with felony records only had to pay back restitution to a victim to get their rights restored, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The bill was introduced last Friday and passed out of committee along party lines, with Republicans in favor. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group that pushed for Amendment 4, slammed it as an “unconstitutional overreach” that “would restrict the number of people who would otherwise be eligible to vote.” Others argue the bill would unfairly burden low-income people who can’t afford to repay all their fines. “This will inevitably prevent individuals from voting based on the size of one’s bank account,” Kirk Baily, a political director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said in a statement. “It’s blatantly unconstitutional as a poll tax,” Rep. Adam Hattersley (D-Riverview) told the Tampa Bay Times.

Say this for Florida Republicans, they’re always on-brand.

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