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March 20, 2019

Florida Bill Restoring Felons’ Voting Rights Excludes Sex Workers

As other presidential candidates and even some states have made moves toward the decriminalization of sex work, Florida Republicans on Tuesday took a big step toward depriving many sex workers of the right to vote. In last year’s November elections, Florida voters approved a ballot measure that amended the state Constitution to guarantee restored voting rights for people who had been convicted of felony crimes, but completed their sentences on those convictions.   Previously, felons lost their right to vote on a permanent basis, as they do in 12 other states, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, with another 22 states taking away felon voting rights for a limited period of time following the completion of a sentence. But the Republican-controlled state legislature in Florida has drawn up legislation to scale back the full restoration of voting rights approved by voters on the November ballot, and one of the groups most directly affected by the proposed restrictions will be sex workers, as The Tampa Bay Times reported.  The language contained in the November ballot measure contained exceptions for felons who have committed “murder” or “sexual offenses.” But the measure did not define what “sexual offenses” meant in the context of the new law. And Republicans who passed the restrictions through the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Tuesday took the opportunity to define the term extremely broadly—including not only “prostitution” but “placing an adult entertainment store within 2,500 feet of a school” as “sexual offenses” that would cause a loss of voting rights, The Orlando Weekly reported. The Republican bill appears to go easier on murderers than sex workers. The restrictions would cause only those convicted of first-degree or second-degree murder to lose their voting rights forever. Those convicted of manslaughter or attempted murder would have their voting rights returned to them. But Commitee Chair James Grant, a Tampa Republican, said that he deliberately included “all felony sex offenses” in the bill that would limit voting rights restoration. “When the Constitution says ‘felony sex offenses’ and that means nothing legally, the best I can do is propose a list of felonies that are sexual,” Grant said. “The reality is I’m going to do my best effort to maintain what I believe the rule of law now requires in a super-ambiguous constitutional amendment.”  Photo By Tom Arthur / Wikimedia Commons 

 
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