- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Medical Groups, Local Leaders Push for Healthcare Workers and Public Employees To Get Vaccinated
The move comes as COVID cases have nearly quadrupled in the last month due to the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant.
Increased Calls for Mandatory Vaccinations in Certain Sectors
More than 50 of America’s largest medical groups representing millions of healthcare workers issued a statement Monday calling for employers of all health and long-term care providers to require mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
The groups, which included the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and 55 others, cited contagious new variants — including delta — and low vaccination rates.
“Vaccination is the primary way to put the pandemic behind us and avoid the return of stringent public health measures,” they wrote.
The call to action comes as new COVID cases have almost quadrupled during the month of July, jumping from just around 13,000 infections a day at the beginning of this month to more than 50,000.
While the vast majority of new infections and hospitalizations are among those who have not received the vaccines, many healthcare workers remain unvaccinated. According to data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, over 38% of nursing home staff were not fully vaccinated as of July 11.
An analysis by WebMD and Medscape Medical News found that around 25% of hospital workers who were in contact with patients had not been vaccinated by the end of May when vaccinations became widely available.
In addition to calls for medical professionals to get vaccinated, some local leaders have also begun to impose mandates for public employees as cases continue spiking.
Last month, San Francisco announced that it was requiring all city workers to get vaccinated. Also on Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that all municipal employees — including police officers and teachers — must either get the jab or agree to weekly testing by the time school starts in September.
Dr. Fauci Says U.S. Officials Are Considering Revising Mask Guidance for Vaccinated People
Numerous top U.S. health officials have applauded efforts by local leaders to mitigate further spread of the coronavirus, including the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who confirmed Sunday that federal officials are actively considering whether to revise federal masking guidelines to recommend that vaccinated Americans wear face coverings in public settings.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are vaccinated do not need to mask in public. Although that was a non-binding recommendation, many states and cities that had not already lifted restrictions on masking began to do so shortly after.
But now, local leaders in areas seeing big spikes have begun reimposing mask mandates — even for those who are vaccinated — including major counties like Los Angeles and St. Louis.
In his remarks Sunday, Fauci also emphasized that, despite claims from many conservatives, those efforts are in line with the federal recommendations, which leave space for local leaders to issue their own rules.
While Fauci and other top U.S. public health officials have encouraged local governments to take action, Republican lawmakers in several states are taking steps to limit the ability of local leaders and public health officials to take certain mitigation measures.
According to the Network for Public Health Law, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering bills to limit the legal authority of public health agencies — and that does not even include unilateral action taken by governors.
Some of the leaders of states suffering the biggest spikes have banned local officials from imposing their own mask mandates, like Arkansas, which has the highest per capita cases in the country right now, as well as Florida, which currently ranks third.
Notably, some of the laws proposed or passed by Republicans could go beyond just preventing local officials from trying to mitigate surges in COVID cases and may have major implications for other public health crises.
For example, according to The Washington Post, a North Dakota law that bans mask mandates applies to other breakouts — even tuberculosis — while a new Montana law also bars the use of quarantine for people who have been exposed to an infectious disease but have not yet tested positive.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Guardian)
Couple Slammed Over Slavery-Themed Pre-Wedding Photoshoot
Many have expressed outrage at the duo for trying to romanticize slavery while others were left completely dumbfounded by the entire ordeal.
Photoshoot Goes Viral
A couple has come under fire after sharing images on Instagram from their slavery-themed pre-wedding photoshoot.
The photos show a Black man in shackles looking deeply into his white fiancé’s eyes before she works to releases him.
“1842. Days passed and everything changed, our love got stronger and stronger, he was no longer a slave, he was part of the family,” the post’s caption reads.
To indicate his transition from “slave” to family, a fourth image shows him wearing a long coat and top hat with well-shined shoes, as opposed to the white shirt, trousers, and straw hat he wore in the previous images.
Social Media Users React
It’s not immediately clear who these people are since the social media handle is redacted in the images circulating online.
Still, many have expressed outrage at the duo for trying to romanticize slavery while others were left just completely dumbfounded by this entire ordeal. Some also directed criticism at the photographer who agreed to the shoot, along with the hundreds of Instagram users who liked the original posts.
To see people romanticize this shit is infuriating – these people are too much. There is no such thing as slave consent and the sexual abuse of male slaves was real.— Nurse Elise 🌒 (@EliseRootedMind) July 21, 2021
There were three people there counting the photographer and not one thought should we? And over 1400 people hit the like button? And it’s part 2 like there’s more? I so want to be at the wedding when minister asks if anybody objects.— Randi Pro Democracy (@RandiKinman) July 21, 2021