THEIR VIEW: Florida is 'charging people for the right to vote'

Published on Thursday, 27 February 2020 19:41
Written by The Gainesville Sun

Florida punishes people who are unable to pay fines and fees by taking away their driver’s licenses, making it even harder for them to hold jobs that allow them to repay those debts.

More than 2 million Floridians - or about 1 in 8 drivers - have suspended licenses, according to the Fines and Fees Justice Center, a national advocacy group.

The vast majority of these licenses were suspended for reasons unrelated to dangerous driving, mostly due to unpaid traffic fines and court fees. Six states have changed their laws in recent years to stop suspending driver’s licenses due to unpaid fines and fees. In one of those states, California, collections of unpaid fines and fees actually increased nearly 9% in the year after the policy was enacted.

Florida is among a handful of states now considering similar legislation. Florida is already struggling with the implementation of Amendment 4, which voters expected would automatically restore the voting rights of most former felons.

But implementing legislation approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature requires that former felons first repay their financial obligations to the courts before their voting rights are restored.

Charging people for the right to vote is bad enough, but the state also penalizes people with unpaid debts with license suspensions. Failure to pay child support payments can also result in a driver’s license suspension.

A measure that would end the latter practice passed the Legislature this session and awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature. Lawmakers should do the same with the suspension of driver’s licenses.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Editorials on Thursday, 27 February 2020 19:41. Updated: Thursday, 27 February 2020 19:47.