Relief may be coming to Miami-Dade County returning citizens who still have not regained their right to vote due to outstanding fees and court costs. Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle rolled out a plan on Monday aimed at helping returning citizens who are unable to pay fines and fees to regain their right to vote.
The county’s top prosecutor's plan that establishes a “rocket docket” or a tribunal noted for its speedy disposition of cases; streamlines the hearing process; and allows judges to lessen some financial obligations that prevent ex-felons from registering to vote.
Fernandez Rundle, along with Amendment 4 champion Desmond Meade, State Senators Jason Pizzo and Annette Taddeo, and House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee, held a town hall meeting Monday evening at Second Baptist Church in Richmond Heights to explain the plan to the South Dade community.
The plan allows ex-felons to show they cannot afford other fees and fines. Individuals would have to file a motion with the court to have their sentences modified. Judges could then change sentences and have some debts turned into community service.
Restitution owed to victims as part of the sentence will not be considered for reduction.
In November, more than 5 million voters, some 65 percent, approved the restoration of voting rights to former felons who have served their sentences and any probation or parole. The amendment excluded those who were convicted of murder or felony sexual offense. About 1.4 million Floridians were supposed to be re-enfranchised and expected to register to vote. However, after a contentious Legislative Session, lawmakers approved SB 7066, which, mandates that fines, fees and restitution be paid before individuals registering to vote. Over 540,000 people have been impacted by the legislation that forces returning citizens to pay their outstanding fees before registering to vote.
“I think that it was the Legislators' attempt to define what completion of a sentence means,” Meade, leader of the Florida Restorations Rights Coalition, told The Miami Times.
Meade was disenfranchised for over 20 years. The last 12 years he has been advocating for voter rights restoration. In 2018, he advocated for Amendment 4 statewide until it was passed in November.
In January, he registered to vote at the Orange County Supervisor of Elections office, which he described as a "joyous occasion."
"It was a smooth process," he told The Miami Times at the time.
In April, Time magazine named Meade as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Since June, he has been working with Fernandez Rundle, elected officials and activists to create a plan to alleviate the cost-burdened returning citizens seeking to regain their right to vote in a way that will not overburden the courts and create future legal fees on ex-felons.
It creates an efficient process for getting people through the system, removing those financial barriers and getting people registered to vote,” Meade said.
Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Palm Beach are the chief counties taking the lead on creating a plan to help returning citizens regain their rights to vote.
“I hope I can have something uniform for the state of Florida,” Fernandez Rundle said. Participating in democracy helps keep recidivism low and increases quality of life, she said.
“We know that if they do that their success rate is much higher; their employability is much greater; and the quality of their employability is higher.”