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Florida Republicans Move to Limit Felon Voting Rights in New Bill

The Florida House of Representatives advanced a bill on Tuesday that would limit the number of former felons whose voting rights were restored under Amendment 4. The bill more strictly defines what kind of former felons can vote and requires them to pay all court costs before their voting rights can be restored. Critics have […]

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  • The Florida House of Representatives advanced a bill on Tuesday that would limit the number of former felons whose voting rights were restored under Amendment 4.
  • The bill more strictly defines what kind of former felons can vote and requires them to pay all court costs before their voting rights can be restored.
  • Critics have called the bill a “poll tax,” and said it disproportionately affects poor people and people of color.

Amendment 4

Florida Republicans are facing backlash after a Florida House committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would limit the number of former felons whose voting rights were restored under Amendment 4.

Amendment 4 was a historic referendum on the Florida ballot during the last midterm elections that was overwhelmingly passed by voters with nearly 65% of the vote.

Source: Ballotpedia

Prior to the amendment, Florida automatically prohibited all former felons from voting. In contrast, Amendment 4 automatically restored voting rights to felons who have completed the terms of their sentences, including jail time, probation, parole, and paying fines or restitution.

It is also important to note that the amendment does not apply to those who had murder or felony sex convictions.

Overall, the amendment was expected to restore voting rights to nearly 1.4 million former felons.

Amendment 4 was added to Florida’s constitution on Jan. 8, and many former felons have already registered to vote.

However, the amendment quickly received challenges from the state’s new Republican governor, Ron DeSantis. DeSantis said Florida lawmakers needed to outline guidance for evaluating voter eligibility, specifically so sex offenders do not “fall through the cracks.”

Bill Passes Committee

The bill passed in the Florida House committee on Tuesday essentially picks up where DeSantis left off. If enacted, the bill would limit the voting rights of felons in two key ways.

First, the bill defines what crimes would prevent someone from having their voting rights restored.

Specifically, it disqualifies anyone convicted of felonies with any kind of sexual component from having their rights restored. This includes having an adult entertainment store too close to a school, and certain prostitution crimes.

Second, the bill requires former felons to pay all court costs and fees before their sentence can be considered “complete,” even if those fees were not ordered by a judge as part of the person’s sentence.

Huge Backlash

Almost immediately the bill garnered significant backlash.

Critics of the bill said it targets lower-income citizens and goes against the will of Florida voters, who overwhelmingly passed the amendment back in November.

“What the barriers proposed in this bill do is nearly guarantee that people will miss election after election …because they cannot afford to pay financial obligations,” said Julie Ebenstein, a voting rights attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, “It’s an affront to the Florida voters.”

Ebenstein also said the financial obligations in the bill disproportionately affects two main groups: low-income felons, and former felons who committed property crimes and were sentenced to pay large restitution and put on payment plans to do so.

According to annual reports from the Florida Clerks and Comptrollers, more than $1 billion in felony fines were issued between 2013 and 2018, and an average of only 19 percent of that money was paid back per year.

Source: Florida Clerks and Comptrollers

Ebenstein added that the bill requires the victim or organization to whom the ex-felon owes fees to “consent” to the felons voting rights being restored, even if a court waives the repayment of fees in the first place.

Desmond Meade, a former felon who helped lead the initiative to get Amendment 4 on the ballot, said he and his organization Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) oppose the measure.

FRRC also started a petition to protect Amendment 4.

Some, including FRRC, have called the bill “unconstitutional overreach.” Other’s also compared the bill to a poll tax.

Florida State Rep. Adam Hattersley, who is a member of the committee that approved the bill, hit on both these points in a statement, saying: “It’s not only targeting the poor and is targeting minorities, but it’s blatantly unconstitutional as a poll tax […] The will of the voters is clear, and this bill is trying to circumvent that.”

The idea that the measure is functionally a poll tax was also evoked by politicians outside of Florida. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also referred to the bill as “A poll tax by any other name” in a tweet.

State Rep. James Grant who was one of the main architects of the bill disputed the claim and rebuked Rep. Hattersley, saying:

“To suggest that this is a poll tax inherently diminishes the atrocity of what a poll tax actually was […] All we’re doing is following statute. All we’re doing is following the testimony of what was presented before the Florida Supreme Court explicitly acknowledging that fines and court costs are part of a sentence.”

Rep. Grant also defended the more strict definition of “felony sex,” saying: “There is absolutely zero significance to the term ‘felony sex,’ […] Had the language said ‘sex offender,’ that would have meant something.”

Implications for 2020

With all this back and forth, many are wondering what happens next.

The current version of the bill has been approved by a House committee, which is the first step in moving the bill to a vote on the House floor.

Following the bill’s approval in the House committee, Politico reported that the president of Florida’s state Senate “said he expects his chamber to draw up a companion measure.”

Politico also reported that Gov. DeSantis said Tuesday that he had not yet seen the wording of the measure, but supported having the Florida Legislature outline how the amendment should be implemented, stating: “Do you want the executive branch to just unilaterally, by fiat, make these decisions […] or do you want it to be in a public debate?”

Both Florida’s House and Senate have Republican majorities and DeSantis is a Republican, giving the state a powerful trifecta. That means if the state House and Senate can agree on a bill, it seems likely that DeSantis will sign it.

With this bill, the voting rights of more than a million Floridians at stake. However, there are also broader implications beyond Florida that could possibly impact the U.S. presidency.

Florida is a key battleground state in the 2020 presidential race.

Voters backed both Barack Obama and Donald Trump in the last two presidential elections. In the last midterm elections, the races for U.S. Senate and Governor of Florida were so close that both forced automatic recounts.

Republican-controlled state legislatures have been criticized since the midterm elections for attempts to change or undo election results where Democrats or progressive causes triumphed.

For example, Republican lawmakers tried to pass legislation to limit the powers of incoming Democratic governors in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Neil Volz, political director for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, criticized the actions in Florida, saying: “Today, we saw the beginning of the politicization of Amendment 4 […] We think we can do better than that.”

Whether or not the bill is simply a political ploy is unclear, but regardless it would have significant implications for the state of Florida and beyond.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (Politico) (Miami Herald)

U.S.

Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him

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  • Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
  • The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
  • The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
  • The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.

Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public

Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.

The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.

The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.

Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.

The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.

Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”

Renewed Backlash and Protests

Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman. 

“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday. 

Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.

“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.

“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.

“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”

Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.

“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”

Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.

However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)

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U.S.

Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting

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  • Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
  • The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet. 
  • According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
  • President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”

Eight Killed in Shooting

Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.

The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified. 

The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families. 

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”

Gun Violence in the U.S.

This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year. 

The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.

Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”

“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”

President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”

“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference. 

“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.

“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter. 

Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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Soldier Charged With Assault After Shoving Black Man in Viral Video

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  • Authorities charged Army soldier Jonathan Pentland with third-degree assault and battery on Wednesday after a viral video showed him shoving a Black man while yelling at him to leave a South Carolina neighborhood.
  • Many people, including dozens who protested outside Pentland’s home this week, condemned the confrontation as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
  • Pentland and others claimed the unidentified man was picking a fight with neighbors, which the man denied, but police said nothing that may have happened earlier justified Pentland’s actions.
  • If convicted, Pentland faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Viral Video

A U.S. soldier was charged with assault on Wednesday after a video that circulated online showed him yelling at and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood.

Footage of the April 8 incident was posted to social media Monday. It shows the Army soldier, Jonathan Pentland, confronting the unidentified man and telling him to leave the neighborhood. 

The other man explains that he’s just walking through the area and doing nothing wrong, but Pentland becomes increasingly aggressive. “You better walk away,” he shouts at the man after shoving him.

“You either walk away, or I’m gonna carry your ass out of here,” he continues before adding, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*ker. Get out!”

The man then tries to tell Pentland that he lives in the neighborhood, and Pentland then asks for his address, which he does not give.

The confrontation continues with Pentland cursing and getting in the man’s face. As he does so, the man says that Pentland smells drunk. 

It’s unclear what exactly led up to the confrontation, but in the video, a woman off-camera says the man “picked a fight with some random young lady that’s one of our neighbors.”

“I don’t even know who she is. Nobody picked a fight when someone ran up on me,” the man replies. Another woman off-screen then encourages the man to leave with her, saying, “What’s your name? Come on. You don’t want no trouble.”

Video Triggers Protests Outside Pentland’s Home

After this video spread online, many social media users condemned it as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”

In fact, protesters even began demonstrating outside of Penland’s home. Those protests started off peaceful, but deputies were then called after 8 p.m. because unknown individuals vandalized the house. That forced police to shut down access to the area and remove Pentland’s family to another location.

As far as the viral video, deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene.”

Police did confirm that there are two reports of alleged assault against the unnamed man Pentland shoved that are being investigated. However, they also added that the man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”

Pentland Charged

Either way, police said whatever happened earlier did not justify Pentland’s actions. He was ultimately arrested Wednesday morning and was charged with third-degree assault and battery. He faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.

“We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if you are, you’re going to answer for it, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”

On top of that, the Justice Department reportedly was investigating. Pentland’s Commanding General even issued a statement condemning his behavior, adding that Pentland “brought disrespect to @fortjackson our Army and the trust with the public we serve.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (Huffpost)

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