Florida voters may get a say over casino gambling

People vote inside a Miami Dade County fire station on election day Tuesday Nov. 8 2016 in Hialeah Fla. CREDIT AP

Florida voters will determine the fate of almost 1.6 million ex-felons across the state in 2018.

Restoring voting rights for felons and requiring voter approval for new casinos are two amendments that are a step closer to being on the 2018 ballot.

For almost 200 years, Florida has had one of the strictest voting regulations in the country when it comes to released felons.

More than 1.6 million Floridians can't vote because the state strips felons of their voting rights unless they receive clemency and have their rights restored by the governor.

When Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, he largely reversed the policy to restore felon voting rights instituted under former Gov. Charlie Crist.

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But there's a big "if" before either can be placed on the 2018 statewide ballot-both amendments still need hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and other supporters of the process have argued that the restoration of voting rights for felons should be earned and only after a sufficient waiting period. State legislators have considered proposals to expand casinos the last several years. Florida House Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana, filed a bill in February to reinstate voting rights to felons three years after they've served their sentences.

"Read together, the title and summary would reasonably lead voters to understand that the chief objective of the amendment is to automatically restore voting rights to felony offenders, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, upon completion of all terms of their sentence". "This amendment modernizes Florida's criminal justice rules by bringing our state in line with others nationwide".

"Today is a momentous day", said Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and chairman of Floridians for a Fair Democracy.

"We are very pleased that the Florida Supreme Court has approved the language for this important constitutional amendment", Kirk Bailey, political director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said in a statement. "Those who have paid their debt to society deserve a second chance".

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