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Voting Rights Still a Concern

April 24th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation labeled “Draconian” by voting rights groups is being watered down, but is still alive at the state Capitol. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the only reason the measure is becoming less punitive is because thousands of Floridians spoke out.

An elections bill that passed a legislative council after public debate was stopped, is being watered down after public outcry. But it’s still moving forward.

“It still would mean that voters might not qualify for elections, might be purged from rolls,” Brad Ashwell from the Florida Public Intrest Research group said. “It would still inhibit the ability of citizens in grass roots groups to use the ballot initiative process.

The bill changed after voters spoke out.

Governor Charlie Crist got more than 150 letters and emails. Lawmakers were likewise inundated.

What made the letters so powerful is that they were not form letters, but were individually written.

“Public pressure really worked, because this bill has received so much attention, nationally from the New York Times even,” Sen. Dave Aaronberg (D-Green Acres) said. “Yet it’s still out there, it’s still alive.”

Council char Dave Murzin says he still wants to regulate paid petition gatherers, but the rest of the bill is still up in the air.

“Well there’s a lot of ideas that were being discussed over the last couple of years,” Murzin (R-Pensacola said. “There’s a need to fix things.”

During the final week of the legislative session, there are fears that the worst parts of the legislation will be revived, giving the public little chance to be heard.

“We always must guard against people like the folks who did this because they keep popping up, we have to keep knocking them down to protect Americans’ rights,” Rep. Franklin Sands (D-Weston) said.

Even with the watered down version of the bill, activists say it does more harm than good.

“I’m very optimistic and I’m very patient. The longer it takes, the better. We keep Rachel’s memory and spirit alive and that’s what this is all about. We will make it a safer and more effective informant system so that this doesn’t happen to anymore parents or children.”

Now, this is not quite the same bill that you started with, not quite as strong as it was, are you still hopefull that it will make a difference?

“I know it will make a difference. We have a foundation to build on. We have a team out in place for next year to get our amendments added. I’m totally optimistic.”

If any version of the bill should pass, voting rights activits will seek a veto from the governor.

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