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Florida Republicans Move to Limit Felon Voting Rights in New Bill

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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)

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CNN’s Chris Cuomo Apologizes for Gender Pronoun Joke at Equality Town Hall

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  • When Sen. Kamala Harris stated that her pronouns were “she, her, and hers” at the start of CNN’s Equality Town Hall, host Chris Cuomo replied, “me too.” 
  • The comment was met with a ton of backlash online from LGBTQ rights groups and community members who said it showed he did not understand the community’s issues.
  • Cuomo apologized on Twitter after the event and said he was an ally of the community. 

Pronoun Comment 

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo apologized Thursday night for a joke he made about his pronouns when introducing 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris during the network’s LGBTQ focused Equality Town Hall. 

The California senator walked onto the stage to greet Cuomo. “Thank you, guys,” she said to the cheering crowd composed of several LGBTQ members and allies. “And my pronouns are she, her, and hers,” she added.

Her words elicited more cheers from the audience, however, Cuomo’s response was met with harsher criticism online. “She, her, and hers?” he asked before jokingly adding, “Mine too.”

Harris simply replied with “All right.”

Social Media Response 

Although the senator’s line drew mostly praise, she was also hit with accusations of pandering as she does not typically mention her pronouns at public events. But most of the criticism online honed in on Cuomo. 

Within progressive spaces and the LGBTQ community, pronoun introductions are widely viewed as a step towards inclusion and a more nuanced understanding of gender. As most who are familiar with the popular TV host know, “she, her, and hers” are not, in fact, Cuomo’s pronouns. 

The National Center for Lesbian Rights quickly condemned Cuomo’s comment online, saying “people’s pronouns are not a punchline.”  

GLAAD called the moment “disappointing,” while others found it even more inappropriate considering the event, which was organized by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign.

Charlotte Clymer, a trans woman and the Human Right’s Campaign’s press secretary, said Cuomo’s comment “was really not a great look.”

Cuomo Apologizes

Following the event, Cuomo tweeted out an apology, saying he was “an ally of the LGBT community.” 

Some felt the apology wasn’t enough and noted that this incident showed that Cuomo did not understand LGBTQ issues and probably shouldn’t have been a moderator for this event. 

Equality Town Hall

Aside from Harris, eight other Democratic 2020 contenders participated in the event. Many released details about their agendas on LGBTQ issues. All nine promised to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They also said they would work to reverse the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people openly serving in the military. 

A number of transgender activists also used the night as an opportunity to address violence against black trans women. Many interrupted candidates at several points to call out of lack of representation for their perspectives during the event.

When the mother of a trans son asked former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke a question, Blossom C. Brown, an actress and producer, walked up to grab the microphone from her.

“CNN, you have erased black trans women for the last time. Black trans women are dying. Our lives matter,” Brown said. “Not one black trans woman has taken the mic tonight, not one black trans man has taken the mic tonight.”

See what others are saying:(Fox News)  (The Guardian) (The Washington Post)

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PG&E Power Outages Affect Millions in Northern California

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  • Pacific Gas & Electric is cutting power to 750,000 customers in Northern California, impacting close to 2.5 million people. 
  • Current severe dry winds have increased the chances of wildfires, so PG&E is turning off power to lessen their risk of contributing to one.
  • Californians are already upset with the company, which was found responsible for the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people.
  • But frustrations are now even higher as the outages have already caused car accidents, closed businesses, and could potentially cost the state billions in lost revenue.

PG&E Starts Outages

Millions in Northern California are being impacted by widespread planned power outages which have triggered gas shortages, car accidents, and long-term economic consequences.

Pacific Gas and Electric anticipates that close to 750,000 customers will be impacted by the outages, which started on Wednesday morning. A total of 2.5 million people in the states are expected to feel its effects. 

PG&E is executing these “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” to prevent wildfires in the area. Severe hot, dry winds are currently making their way through Northern California, increasing the chances of a fire. PG&E was found responsible for 2018’s Camp Fire which killed 85 people. Anticipating this, the company filed for bankruptcy in January, predicting facing $30 billion in damages from both the Camp Fire, as well as other fires in 2017.

The outages could last for several days, with the mayor of San Jose warning it could last a week. People in areas affected by the shutoffs are already waiting in long lines at the grocery store and gas stations, and even seeing some stations run out of fuel. Several schools and businesses have closed as a result of the outages as well, leaving people without work. 

Several car crashes related to the outages have also been reported. Traffic lights are not working, making major intersections more vulnerable to accidents. The city of Santa Rosa said that multiple collisions have occurred at intersections without power, with at least five resulting in injuries.

Concerned customers were also left in the dark when PG&E’s website crashed on Wednesday. Over 12 hours later, they created an entirely new site just devoted to the shutoffs. 

Economic Impact of Power Outrage

Perhaps the most long-lasting consequence of these outages is the dame done to the economy. According to Michael Wara, the Director of the Stanford Woods Institute, this could cost anywhere between $65 million to $2.5 billion in economic losses.

Other reports indicate that the number could be closer to $1 billion. PG&E also says customers will not be reimbursed for losses during the outages.

Money is also only part of what is at stake for those in Northern California. The area is home to massive hubs of scientific, medical and technological research. 

In an email to the New York Times, one researcher at the University of California, Berkeley said valuable research is at risk. 

“Many friends and colleagues barely have enough emergency power to keep freezers cold and incubators running,” graduate student Julia Torvi wrote.

“These two things hold millions of dollars of research, tens of years of effort, their contents being irreplaceable.”

Frustrations With PG&E

Frustrations with PG&E are high among residents. Several leaders in California have spoken up about the blackout and condemned PG&E for this practice. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-11) called it “completely unacceptable.”

Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said that PG&E should be “held responsible for the maintenance of their power lines.”

The public outrage extends even further. A PG&E office in Oroville closed after its front door was vandalized. Reports say that it appeared someone had thrown eggs at it sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

A PG&E truck was also struck by a bullet on Tuesday night. The California Highway Patrol is still investigating the incident. A bullet hit the passenger window. The driver was not injured. 

In a statement Wednesday, Sumeet Singh, the Vice President of PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Program released a statement sympathizing with customers.

“We understand that this power shutoff is difficult for our customers and communities. Please check on your neighbors, friends and family and know that we will work safely, and quickly as possible, to restore power across the region,” the statement read. “Our meteorological and operations teams are actively monitoring the weather and this evolving situation, and we are working directly with state and local agencies to help our customers and communities through this event safely.”

Currently, they have been able to restore power back to 50,000 residents. 

See what others are saying: (San Francisco Chronicle) (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times)

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Matt Lauer Accused of Rape in Ronan Farrow’s New Book

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  • Ronan Farrow’s new book, Catch and Kill, includes an interview with Brooke Nevils, who accused Matt Lauer of raping her in 2014 during the Sochi Olympics.
  • Lauer was fired in 2017 over an unspecified sexual misconduct claim, but this is the first time specifics about the alleged assault have been released.
  • NBC News and TODAY Show anchors responded by saying they were appalled by the news. 
  • Meanwhile, Lauer defended himself by saying all of his relations with Nevils were consensual.

Farrow’s Book Reveals Rape Allegation

An NBC colleague accused former TODAY Show anchor Matt Lauer of rape in Ronan Farrow’s upcoming book.

Back in 2017, Lauer was fired from his position for alleged sexual misconduct. No details about the claim were made clear at the time. Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill, will now provide the first detailed explanation of the alleged assault.

Catch and Kill is not out yet, but Variety received an advance copy of it and reported on the account about Lauer. Farrow interviewed the accuser, Brooke Nevils, who says that incident happened while she was working for Meredith Vieira while in Sochi covering the 2014 Olympics. 

Nevils and Vieira were at the hotel bar when they ran into Lauer. Nevils had six shots of vodka before going to Lauer’s room on two separate occasions. The first was to get her press credential that he jokingly took, and the second was because he invited her back. She told Farrow she “had no reason to suspect Lauer would be anything but friendly based on prior experience.”

When she got there, however, he pushed her against the door kissing her, and then pushed her onto the bed. According to Farrow’s book, he flipped her over “asking if she liked anal sex.”

“She said that she declined several times,” the report continues. Nevils “was in the midst of telling him she wasn’t interested again when he ‘just did it.’” 

The report also details the specifics of the incident, which are incredibly disturbing. Nevils recounted the experience as “excruciatingly painful.” She added that at some point, she stopped saying no a wept silently into a pillow. Afterward, Lauer asked her if she liked it and she told him “yes.”

“It was nonconsensual in the sense that I was too drunk to consent,” Nevils told Farrow. “It was nonconsensual in that I said, multiple times, that I didn’t want to have anal sex.”

Farrow goes on to say that the two did have sexual encounters with one another after the fact. Farrow noted that this was a common occurrence he heard from the numerous other women he had interviewed who shared similar stories of assault.

“This is what I blame myself most for,” Nevils said to Farrow. “It was completely transactional. It was not a relationship.”

NBC’s Handling of the Allegation

On top of these allegations against Lauer, Farrow’s book also details the way NBC handled them. Nevils said that after their encounters had ended, she told several people within the company. Nothing ever happened until Farrow’s bombshell report on Harvey Weinstein led to a cultural reckoning in 2017, prompting her colleagues asked her about Lauer. 

Nevils then told Vieira about what happened. Vieira advised her to go to HR with a lawyer, which Nevils did.

Once Lauer was fired, Nevils learned that executives at NBC News were looking to paint the incident as not being criminal or an assault. Learning this made her throw up.

Nevils also said that HR promised she would remain anonymous. Still, many were able to figure out she was the one who filed the complaint as an internal memo contained details specific enough for people to connect the dots. 

Despite the fact that Nevils insisted she did not want money, she went on medical leave in 2018. Farrow says NBC paid her seven figures. 

NBC and TODAY Respond

NBC responded to the news in a statement that aired on the TODAY Show Wednesday morning. 

“Matt Lauer’s conduct was appalling, horrific and reprehensible, as we said at the time,” the statement read. “That’s why he was fired within 24 hours of us first learning of the complaint. Our hearts break again for our colleague.”

TODAY Show anchors and former colleagues of Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, also responded to the news on air. 

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“I feel like we owe it to our viewers to pause for a moment,” Guthrie said after a news package detailing the allegation aired. 

“You know, this is shocking and appalling and I honestly don’t even know what to say about it,” she added. “I want to say that we know it wasn’t easy for our colleague to come forward then, it’s not easy now, and we support her and any women who have come forward with claims.” 

“There are not allegations of an affair. There are allegations of a crime,” Kotb later added. “And I think that’s shocking to all of us here who have sat with Matt for many, many years.” 

Matt Lauer Responds

Lauer also responded to the allegations on Wednesday morning in an open letter. The Hollywood Reporter obtained the letter via a legal representative of Lauer’s and published it in full. 

“Over the past two years people have asked why I have not spoken out to defend myself more vigorously against some of the false and salacious allegations leveled at me,” he said in the letter’s opening. “It is a fair question and the answer is deeply personal.”

“But my silence has been a mistake,” he added.

He then insisted that everything that happened between him and Nevils was fully consensual.

“In a new book, it is alleged that an extramarital, but consensual, sexual encounter I have previously admitted having, was in fact an assault. It is categorically false, ignores the facts, and defies common sense,” Lauer wrote.

He said that “each act was mutual and completely consensual.” He also said that as their encounters continued, at no time “did she express in words or actions any discomfort with being there, or with our affair.”

Catch and Kill comes out on October 15.

See what others are saying: (Variety) (The Hollywood Reporter) (NBC News)

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