Florida politics and the carceral state

In a classic example of heads-I-win tails-you-lose policy, the Florida legislature has decided that the plain language of Amendment 4, passed with overwhelming support last November, doesn’t mean what it says:

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said that the upper chamber is scheduled Monday to consider a House bill that would prevent felons from voting until they’ve paid off all fines, fees and restitution.

The House bill would potentially keep hundreds of thousands of former felons from voting. The Senate’s version is milder, allowing felons to vote while paying off fines and fees.

Both Galvano and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, the architect of the Senate bill, said Friday they were willing to consider the House version, which Brandes said was constitutional.

And the Republican leaders of both chambers said they remain committed to passing a bill this session. The question is whether the House, the more conservative chamber, is willing to accept what the Senate offers.

The Senate bill improves mildly on this horror:

That measure doesn’t require fees and fines be paid if they were converted to a civil lien. Since fees and fines are usually converted to a civil lien by the time a felon has completed their probation or parole, it would allow them to vote while paying off those obligations, as many other states allow.

We see the groundwork for two Floridas: one for those who can afford to vote and those who can’t; besides, Florida has to pay for the carceral state with a Kafkaesque web of administrative costs imposed on former felons. Only nineteen percent of Floridians pay these debts. In addition, a 1998 law requires fees to pay for courts. Both bills form part of the GOP’s nationwide effort to unravel democracy, from efforts to criminalize mistakes in voter registration to proposed legislation in New Hampshire requiring new forms of ID for those out-of-state college students who want to vote.

Alas, finding sympathy from those same voters is impossible. To gauge the depths of right wing pathology, don’t discuss taxes : discuss the carceral system, whether it’s death penalty or disenfranchisement. It’s been impossible to dissuade people who support capital death, even those who don’t watch FOX News in a feedback loop, from believing that revenge and justice are incompatible; they’re likely to say, “Yes, they are, and fuck you, he raped this woman three times, he doesn’t deserve to live.” The state, they insist, has the duty — the obligation — to bleed these felons dry. They deserve it. Asking these people to where in the Constitution it states that you can revoke the rights of citizenship for a felony takes you exactly nowhere, nor does explaining that prisoners get counted as part of the population for drawing congressional districts, therefore rescinding their rights amounts — ahem — to taxation without representation.

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