- 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)
Coachella Woman Sentenced for Dumping Puppies in Trash
- Deborah Sue Culwell, who was arrested for tossing a bag of seven puppies into a dumpster in April, has now pled guilty to seven counts of animal cruelty and seven counts of misdemeanor animal abandonment.
- She was sentenced to 365 days in jail, 90 of which will be served on work release, and was also ordered to complete a formal probation period of seven years.
- During her probation, she will not be allowed to own animals.
Culwell Pleads Guilty
A Coachella woman who made national headlines in April for tossing a bag of seven puppies into a dumpster will serve time behind bars after pleading guilty to 14 charges on Wednesday.
Deborah Sue Culwell initially pled not guilty to seven counts of animal cruelty and seven misdemeanor counts of animal abandonment when security footage of her committing the act went viral.
According to Riverside County Superior Court records obtained by Rogue Rocket, Culwell will now serve 365 days in jail, 90 of which will be on work release. Culwell was also sentenced to complete a formal probation period of seven years.
Other terms of her probation include not being allowed to own non-prescribed controlled substances, being subject to property searches and drug testing, and not being allowed to own animals during the seven-year period.
Culwell’s case drew in widespread attention and created national outrage earlier this year. On the day she abandoned the puppies in a dumpster, it was reportedly over 90 degrees in Coachella, California. The dogs were just three days old.
A man discovered them soon after and brought them into an air-conditioned store where others were able to call animal services. One of the puppies died a few days later. The surviving dogs were taken into foster care.
When officers arrested Culwell, they found 38 dogs at her residence. She was forced to give up her ownership of them. They were transferred to Riverside County Animal Services and put up for adoption. RCAS said the animals were living in “crammed conditions,” appeared “nervous,” and were not “used to being handled with love.”
See what others are saying: (Desert Sun) (BuzzFeed News) (CBS Los Angeles)
Newark’s Water Crisis Intensifies as Reports Show City-Issued Filters Failed to Remove Lead Contamination
- After a report found a small number of city-issued filters failed to remove lead from Newark’s water system, the city advised all affected residents to avoid drinking from tap water.
- Monday, the city and state began handing out water bottles, but people soon discovered the water was months past its best-by date.
- Many have called for Mayor Ras Baraka to resign because the city has faced elevated lead levels for years, but residents were not told the water was unsafe to drink until last year.
Asking for Federal Aid
Newark and New Jersey state officials are asking the Federal government to step in after the city began handing out bottled water earlier this week in response to growing concerns of lead contaminating its water service lines.
On Wednesday, Governor Phil Murphy visited the city and reiterated the need for federal aid, saying the state does not have enough water bottles to continue passing out for an extended period of time.
“Everybody, young and old, big and small, regardless of where you are in this state, in this community — certainly in Newark — in this country: clean water is a right, not a privilege, for everybody, and we believe that with great passion,” Murphy said in a press conference.
Earlier in the day, Senator Cory Booker — who lives in Newark — tweeted about the need for federal aid in his hometown.
“It’s shameful that our national crisis of lead-contaminated water disproportionately hits poor black and brown communities like my own,” he wrote.
Newark’s Lead Crisis Explained
Old and corroding water service lines have propagated Newark’s lead issues for years.
Since the 2010-2011 academic year, the Newark Board of Education has found elevated lead-water levels in schools every year. Despite attempting to fix the problem by installing new water lines, it persisted.
In 2016, over 30 schools resorted to using bottled water after shutting off fountains, and thousands of children have been tested to see if they have increased levels of lead in their blood, with about 25 percent of Newark children under six having detectable lead levels.
In 2017, it was reported that 1 in every 10 households in Newark had twice the amount of lead the Environmental Protection Agency sets as a federal standard.
In the fall of last year, the city began handing out lead-safe PÜR filters. The city has estimated it has distributed more than 38,000 filters since October.
The increased calls for federal aid come after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an Aug. 9 statement to Mayor Ras Baraka, urging the city to begin handing out bottled water after it seemed some lead-safe filters were not adequately removing lead from water.
“We are unable at this time to assure Newark residents that their health is fully protected when drinking tap water filtered through these devices,” EPA Regional Administrator Peter Lopez said.
The next day, Baraka held a press conference and announced the city had received reports that two of three tested filters contained lead levels four times above what the EPA allows.
“A small sample of water filters provided to the City of Newark may not be removing lead to the low levels expected by city, state and federal officials,” a report released by the city on Monday said.
Also on Monday, city and state officials began handing out water bottles, advising those in affected areas to use bottled water to drink, cook, and prepare baby formula.
Later, people began to notice the water was past its best-by date of May 30, and 50,000 more bottles had to be ordered. The state maintains the expired water was likely still safe to drink.
Residents waiting for water faced heat and long lines. Some said they were turned away if they weren’t from a specific area.
At the same time, Baraka has continually encouraged people to run their water for activities like showering or washing dishes. Currently, the city is attempting a corrosion-control treatment meant to re-coat old pipes.
Baraka has said residents should flush their water for 3-5 minutes before using it but has said the process will take some time.
Because the water crisis affects mostly low-income and African American households, many are drawing comparisons to Flint, though Baraka has denied those associations and called them false comparisons.
Calls for Baraka to Resign
Despite the efforts taken by the city, some are saying Baraka should resign because until last fall, the city denied having a dangerous amount of lead in the water system.
“It’s wrong,” one resident told ABC. “Something should be done about this. This has been going on for a while, and they’ve been covering it up and nobody didn’t do nothing about it.”
After being sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Newark released a June 2018 statement saying “the City’s water is not contaminated with lead.”
“The lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council is based on the premise that Newark residents are exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the City’s drinking water,” the statement reads. “That charge is absolutely and outrageously false. The truth is that the water supplied by the city is pure, safe and fully complies with federal and state regulations. The NRDC has seriously mischaracterized the facts.
Many residents have spoken up about similar claims, saying the city lied to them.
“‘Your water’s fine, everything’s fine,’” Evette Jordan said she was told in an interview with CBS This Morning.
“That’s what you heard from the city?” reporter Anna Werner asked her.
“Yes, through several robocalls, through press conferences from our mayor,” Jordan said.
Though Newark admitted to the problems with lead in schools in the June statement, it argued it wasn’t to blame because the lead “stems from privately owned lead service lines,” not city mains.
See what others are saying: (WABC) (Star-Ledger) (New York Times)
Ben Shapiro Slammed for Comments About Working Two Jobs
- Ben Shapiro recently made a comment about people who work two jobs to make ends meet saying, “you probably shouldn’t have taken the job that’s not paying you enough. That’d be a you problem.”
- People were upset with his remarks and argued that he comes from a privileged background.
- He tried to clarify his statement later, adding that he has worked “multiple jobs” throughout his career and understands why someone would need two.
- Some were still unhappy with his comments, while others said they agreed with Shapiro.
Ben Shapiro’s Remarks go Viral
Conservative radio host Ben Shapiro responded to online backlash he received after saying that having to work two jobs to make ends meet is a “you problem.”
On Wednesday, a clip of Shapiro making these comments on his show went viral.
“If you had to work more than one job to have a roof over your head or food on the table, you probably shouldn’t have taken the job that’s not paying you enough,” he said. “That’d be a you problem.”
Shapiro said he was referencing comments Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) made during a Democratic presidential debate.
“People in America are working,” she said. “They’re working two and three jobs. So when we talk about jobs let’s be really clear. In our America, no one should have to work more than one job to have a roof over their head to food on the table.”
In the clip, Shapiro goes on to say that very few Americans are actually working multiple jobs, which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is true. The BSL says that just under five percent of Americans work two jobs. However, some reports claim the number could be higher because sample groups may not reach enough people, and because someone working two jobs is less likely to participate in a survey.
Comments Recieve Backlash
Still, Shapiro’s comments received a lot of backlash online. Many said they came from a place of privilege and pointed out the host’s financially comfortable upbringing.
“Ben Shapiro is the child of a television studio executive and film composer and grew up in Hollywood as a private school dilettante who got his high school education for a tuition comparable to most Ivy League universities,” one user pointed out.
“It’s not a you problem it’s a systematic problem,” another said.
Talk about the white privilege that’s Ben Shapiro. He is so out of touch with the issue of wage inequality in the United States, where the average minimum wage is 7.75. how is that a living wage. It’s not a you problem it’s a systematic problem. I— Leo (@arsenalfanleo) August 15, 2019
If you *need* two jobs to make ends meet, you *don’t have the luxury* of picking and choosing jobs. You take work where you can to pay the bills and feed yourself and your family. Ben Shapiro clearly does not get that.— Matt Ortega (@MattOrtega) August 14, 2019
Some also told their own stories about why people in their families have had to take multiple jobs.
Shapiro Clarifies Statement
Shapiro later responded to the backlash on Twitter by posting a thread to clarify his comments.
“The point I am making, of course, is that you cannot dictate that a job pay you what you wish it paid you,” he said.
However, he later added, “The answer to the problem of taking a job that you feel underpays you is to (a) not take the job, as I suggest here, or (b) not live beyond your means.”
He also said that he himself had worked multiple jobs for most of his career.
“I understand why someone would need two jobs,” he later said after his thread.
Reactions to Shapiro’s Follow-Up
“You’ve had multiple gigs,” someone said. “That’s entirely different.”
Others, however, defended Shapiro.
“What he says is true,” one user wrote. “Just because you dont like it doesnt change it.”
Hey snowflakes, what he says is true. Just because you dont like it doesnt change it. And it’s true for most of us. Who would like to have a better paying job? And what did we do about it? Most people do not do what they need to get what they want.— Mon Doudou (@EspecedeChacal) August 15, 2019
No, he is saying get a better paying job. Not to settle for a job thats not paying what you are worth. He is correct.— Stop & Think (@NYems305) August 15, 2019