Ahead of the holidays, a Florida nonprofit has paid $327,000 to clear the fines and fees of 181 ex-felons in 17 counties throughout the state.
Hundreds of thousands of returning citizens in Florida still owe fines and fees associated with their convictions and these financial obligations create various barriers, including to their right to vote.
In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to the nearly 1.5 million Floridians with past felony convictions. But Republicans in the state legislature limited the constitutional amendment so that only former felons who owed no money to the state could register to vote.
The nonprofit Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) played a critical role in the push to get Amendment 4 passed and has since paid the fines and fees of more than 42,000 returning citizens (1,005 of them in Duval County), totalling $27 million to 63 counties throughout the state.
“This effort is a continuation of the work we have been doing for years. Paying the fines and fees of returning citizens serves the dual purpose of removing barriers to voting and enriching our democracy, while also providing much-needed money and resources to the state of Florida,” said Desmond Meade, Executive Director of FRRC. “It is a win-win. We are not only helping returning citizens and the community, but protecting taxpayers.”
The group announced Tuesday that they had paid another $327,000 to clear the fines and fees of 181 returning citizens living in Alachua, Brevard, Duval, Hillsborough, Lake, Leon, Martin, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Lucie and Volusia Counties.
"This was a huge burden lifted from me,” said Clarence Colbert of St. Lucie, one of the many ex-felons to benefit from this round of payments. “Every time I was late or missed a payment, I would get a letter threatening to suspend my driver's license. It feels good not to have to worry about that. I'm truly grateful and appreciative."