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Amendment 4 creators want to help felons pay off court fees and fines

And they’ve already raised more than $85,000.

By Lawrence Mower

July 2

Desmond Meade made history last year successfully leading the effort for Amendment 4, which restored the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of felons in Florida.

Now he’s turned his attention to a new effort: helping felons pay off their court fees and fines.

Since launching the effort on Friday, nearly 900 people have given a combined $85,000, according to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition’s website. The goal is to raise at least $3 million.

All of the money goes to paying off court fees and fines — not for restitution to victims, spokesman Neil Volz said Monday. And because it pays for court fees and fines, all of the money is going to state courts.

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The money is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of dollars felons owe the state courts in fees and fines. Many felons owe tens of thousands of dollars. A drug trafficking conviction, for example, can net a $50,000 fine.

But many felons owe only hundreds of dollars or a couple thousand dollars, which can still take years to pay off for people struggling to find work.

In addition to raising money, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition will also help felons register to vote and navigate the court system to potentially have their fees and fines waived or converted to community service hours.

“We are excited to build on the success of Amendment 4, the largest expansion of democracy in 50 years, by registering eligible Florida voters and helping those who have not yet completed their sentences move forward with their lives,” Meade said in a statement.

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It’s perhaps a different post-Amendment 4 mission than Meade and his organization foresaw.

The Legislature this year controversially passed a law requiring all felons to pay off all fines, fees and restitution before being eligible to vote. Critics have called the requirement a “poll tax.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed lawsuits over the last few days on behalf of more than a dozen felons. Most were able to register to vote after the amendment passed, but will likely be kicked off the voter rolls after DeSantis signed the Legislature’s bill late Friday.

Meade and his organization were against the idea of requiring court fees and fines be paid before voting, and they estimate that the requirement will keep hundreds of thousands of felons from registering to vote. But they’re choosing to stay out of the litigation.

“Where other people see obstacles, we see opportunities,” spokesman Neil Volz said Monday.

Volz said the organization will be taking applications from felons who wish to vote, and the organization will work to pay off their fees and fines “as quickly as possible.”

“We are taking this a step at a time," Volz said. "We’re going to learn as we go, and stay focused on real people’s lives.”

Anyone wishing to donate can do so here.

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