Saturday, April 13, 2019

Save the Voter's Voice!


During the Florida legislative session, we typically post about bills directly impacting the environment. But there are a number of anti-voter bills advancing in the legislature, and they are of concern as they have the potential to impact future voting for environmental issues.
Right now, leaders in the Florida House and Senate are fast tracking anti-voter bills through the legislature that would make it even harder for voters to have a say when it comes to amending the Constitution on Election Day.
House Bill 7111 / Senate Bill 7096 seek to make it unnecessarily difficult for citizen-led groups to get the signatures required for a proposed amendment to get on the ballot and adds unnecessary and confusing language to Floridians' ballots which is designed to defeat citizen proposed amendments. Additionally, special interest aligned legislators want to raise the already high bar for passage from 60% to 66% via House Joint Resolution 57 / Senate Joint Resolution 32.
Certain legislators also are seeking to restrict Voting Restoration Amendment 4 via House Bill 7089 / Senate Bill 7086. Approved by 65% of Florida voters, Amendment 4 allows most people who have completed their sentences to register to vote, though those convicted of felony sexual offenses or murder are still barred. Powerful Florida legislators, however, are now trying to have a say in how the amendment is implemented — introducing bills that would likely make it harder for thousands to be re-enfranchised.
These bills place restrictions on the eligibility to vote for individuals who should have their voting rights back. Among other deficiencies, the bills would effectively disenfranchise two categories of returning citizens for life: those with very small financial obligations that they will never be able to pay due to poverty and those with financial obligations for non-violent property crimes. To finance its criminal justice system, Florida imposes both fines and “user fees” on defendants upon conviction. Individuals may be fined up to $500,000 for their crime, and then are saddled with an array of administrative fees. Defendants must pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to fund court costs, “crime prevention” programs, and local jails. They must pay a fee to apply for a public defender, to receive medical treatment in prison, to reinstate a suspended driver’s license, and to participate in drug abuse treatment. Those who receive probation must pay “surcharges” to fund their supervision or room-and-board at a halfway house, as well as electronic monitoring and urinalysis. This is clearly an attempt to thwart the intent of Amendment 4 and to continue Florida's history of voter disenfranchisement. 
So how do these bills impact our protection of the environment? We need only look back to 2014 when 75% of voters approved the Water and Land Conservation constitutional amendment. After years of being ignored by legislators, citizens made their priority clear regarding land protection.  Amendment 1 sets aside one-third of documentary stamp tax revenue to buy, manage and improve conservation lands and water resources for 20 years. Now legislators are trying to make it harder to not only get an amendment on the ballot, but they are raising the threshold that must be met for passage!
Restoring voting rights also is important to our work. In 2014, the Sierra Club adopted the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing to facilitate it becoming a more equitable, just, and inclusionary organization. A component of the Principles is that “we hope to achieve just societies that include all people in decision-making….” Amendment 4 is in alignment with these Principles and attempts by lawmakers to thwart voter intent is unacceptable.  
Please call your Florida Senator and Representative and demand that they oppose all anti-voter legislation!