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    Senators back off move to give felons the vote

    Senators offer to drop the provision as lawmakers bargain on election reform. But a law change might be unnecessary.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- An elections reform package nearing approval in the House and Senate is not likely to include provisions to restore the voting rights of felons or to require non-partisan elections supervisors.

    Senate negotiators offered to remove the two issues from an elections bill Tuesday night. In exchange, the senators asked House negotiators to drop their effort to impose new restrictions on money that can be matched for candidates that choose public financing and to double the maximum contribution from $500 to $1,000.

    Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, offered the compromise as negotiators for the House and Senate met to fashion legislation meant to fix many of the election problems that put Florida in the international spotlight last year.

    Rep. Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, said the House wants to think about the offer overnight before making a decision. The House did not include language dealing with voting rights for felons or non-partisan supervisors.

    The Senate bill included language designed to let felons regain the right to vote once they have completed their sentences and paid restitution, but it would also take a constitutional amendment to change the law. Since a separate resolution would have to be approved by the House and Senate, Carlton said the Senate decided to take the language out of its bill.

    She also noted that Gov. Jeb Bush and Attorney General Bob Butterworth are working on streamlining the existing process for restoring the rights of felons. That would make a change in the law unnecessary.

    Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan was at the meeting and said the governor is committed to helping felons regain their voting rights.

    Members of the Legislature's black caucus have made felons' voting rights a high priority and still hope to pass a resolution that would put the issue before voters in 2002.

    Carlton also noted the lack of support for making elections officials non-partisan as the Senate offered to eliminate that provision from the elections bill. Earlier Tuesday the Senate narrowly approved a resolution calling for elected non-partisan elections supervisors in all 67 Florida counties.

    "A lot of people aren't in favor of it and voted against it," Carlton noted. "I don't believe there is support behind this in the Senate."

    The Senate resolution passed 25 to 13 on a vote that required approval by a three-fifths margin of the chamber's 40 members. Several Miami-Dade County senators opposed the bill because their elections supervisor is an appointed non-partisan official.

    In return for dropping the felons' voting rights issue and non-partisan supervisors, Carlton said the Senate wants to see the House drop unrelated campaign measures that would double the maximum contribution candidates can accept and prohibit out-of-state contributions for candidates seeking public financing.

    Negotiators agreed to meet again early today to reach agreement on a package of reforms that virtually everyone agrees must pass before the Legislature adjourns Friday.

    Conference committee members from both houses already have approved plans to spend $24-million over two years on new voting equipment; $6-million on voter education; and $2-million to create a statewide list of voters.

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    From the Times state desk