When I first learned of debtors’ prisons as a teenager, I intuitively knew it was a stupid idea. How can someone earn money to pay off their debt if they’re in jail?
Fortunately, the legal system back then wasn’t stupid enough to also prevent someone else from paying a prisoner’s debt. Today, however, a version of this is going on in Florida.
Like in most jurisdictions, Floridian felons are disenfranchised. Unlike most jurisdictions, they do not immediately regain their right to vote after serving their sentence. First, they have to pay all fines and court fees associated with their conviction.
There are currently 775,000 felons in Florida, with a collective $1,000,000,000 (yes, $1B) in unpaid court fees. Many of them cannot pay their debt without the help of family, friends or charitable organizations, such as the Florida Rights Restauration Coalition (FRRC). As we approach a presidential election in the US, organizations like the FRRC are working tirelessly to pay these outstanding court fees and restore citizens’ right to vote.
To me, this sounds like a good cause. But to Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican Congressman, it looks like an attempt by Democrat donors to get Joe Biden elected. So Gaetz has asked the Florida Attorney General to launch a bribery investigation against the donors. You see, Florida has yet another law on the books that makes it a felony for someone to either directly or indirectly provide something of value to impact whether or not someone votes. So if you donate money to a charitable organization that helps people pay their debt, which must be paid for them to vote, you might be engaging in criminal activity.
Mr. Gaetz, yours is not the type of leadership I would vote for.