The American Civil Liberties Union in Jacksonville Thursday led a discussion on its priorities heading into the next Florida legislative session, which are: criminal justice, immigrant rights and voting rights.
At the nonprofit’s regional Downtown office, Micah Kubic, who heads ACLU Florida, said this was by far "the worst session in ten years" for civil rights and civil liberties.
"I think we would be naive to pretend like the national political climate and the environment of fear and harassment that is being promulgated at the national level doesn’t have an impact on state and local governments too, right? Those things are clearly tied to each other,” he said.
Kubic said that’s why lawmakers are ignoring the will of the people by passing a state law (SB 7066) that requires felons to first repay all financial penalties - such as court fees and restitution - before their right to vote is restored.
Those new requirements were tacked onto to Amendment 4, mostly along party lines.
The constitutional amendment, which passed with more than 64% of the statewide vote last year, allows those sentenced for a felony offense the automatic right to vote once they complete their sentence. It doesn’t apply to those convicted of murder or a felony sex offense.
Proponents of SB 7066, like Gov. Ron DeSantis, say the bill is simply enacting the intent of the amendment. But opponents worry its chipping away at Amendment 4.
"Unfortunately, from our analysis, because of SB 766, less than 20% of those whose voting rights were restored under Amendment 4 are now able to vote," said Northeast Florida Regional Organizer Sam Coodley.
Multiple organizations, including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters have filed lawsuits to challenge the new bills.
Another state law the ACLU wants to tackle is SB 168, which aims to ban so-called sanctuary cities by placing stiff penalties on communities that fail to fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Rep. Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville), who led the effort in the Florida House, said in April the legislation is "about public safety." But Kubic disagrees.
"It diverts resources from things that local police officers and law normally do, like investigating burglary, robbery, homicide, and it creates an environment where racial profiling runs rampant," he said.
The ACLU staff also mentioned recent criminal justice reforms, like HB 7125, but called them "baby steps."