- 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)
California Parents Who Starved and Shackled Their Children Sentenced to Life in Prison.
- Louise and David Turpin, the parents who pled guilty to locking up and abusing their children, have been sentenced to life in prison.
- The abuse included beating, starving, and chaining up 12 of their 13 children, among other acts.
- The couple has the possibility of parole in 25 years.
Louise and David Turpin Receive Life Sentence
The California couple who pled guilty to locking up and abusing 12 of their 13 children were sentenced to life in prison on Friday.
Both Louise and David Turpin pled guilty to fourteen charges of torture, dependent adult abuse, child endangerment, and false imprisonment in February. They were charged with the crimes in January 2018, when one of the children escaped from their Perris, California home. The child climbed out of a window and eventually alerted police of the situation.
The Turpin children ranged in age from two to 29-years-old at the time they were found in the house. Of the 13 kids, only the youngest appeared to have never been subject to abuse.
The Turpins chained their children to beds and other furniture, starved them, beat them. They would sometimes keep them chained for months at a time, not allowing them access to the bathroom.
The children were only allowed to shower once a year and seldom left the house. Their parents would also bake pies and not let the kids eat them and buy toys and not let the kids open or play with them. The abuse lasted for over a decade.
The Turpin’s Speak Out
The Turpins’ life sentence leaves them with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Louise Turpin spoke at the sentencing in Riverside County Superior Court, apologizing for the pain she caused her children.
“I’m sorry for everything I’ve done to hurt my children. I love my children so much,” she said. “I want them to know that mom and dad are going to be ok.”
David Turin also had a prepared statement, but it was read by his attorney, as he was too emotional to deliver it himself.
“I’m sorry if I’ve done anything to cause them harm,” his attorney read on his behalf.
Judge Bernard J. Schwartz condemned them both for their actions and spoke about the long-term effects of their abuse.
“Their lives have been permanently altered in their ability to learn, grow and thrive,” he said in court. “What the parents did was selfish, cruel, inhumane treatment.”
The Children Share Statements
The children, who have not been named since the case was first reported, also had a chance to speak in court.
“My parents took my whole life from me, now I’m taking my life back,” one daughter, who is now a college student, said. “Life may have been bad, but it made me strong.”
One son said he still often thinks about what he and his siblings went through.
“Sometimes, I still have nightmares of things that have happened,” he read. “Like my siblings getting chained up or beaten.”
Another child was sympathetic to their parents and expressed that they believed the Turpins deserved less jail time.
“I think 25 years is too long,” the child read in a statement. “I believe our parents did their best to raise all 13 of us.”
U.S. Labeled ‘Problematic’ Place for Journalists
- Reporters Without Borders dropped the U.S. to No. 48 out of 180 countries on its annual World Press Freedom Index.
- The ranking is three places lower than it was last year, changing the U.S. label from “satisfactory” to “problematic.”
- The Index states that increased threats against journalists in the U.S. are becoming more normalized.
- The report specifically cites the U.S. ranking as “marred by the effects of President Donald Trump’s second year in office.”
World Press Freedom Index
The United States has been ranked as a “problematic” place for journalists, as the threats they face continue to become more standard, according to a new report about press freedom.
The 2019 World Press Freedom Index, an annual report compiled by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) or Reporters Without Borders (RWB), downgraded the U.S. to No. 48 out of 180. The ranking is three spots lower than its place last year.
The downgrade officially changes the press freedom status of the U.S. from “satisfactory” to “problematic,” marking the first time the country has received that label.
#RSFIndex: For the first time, the #UnitedStates is coloured orange (“problematic”) on the World Press Freedom Map.— RSF (@RSF_inter) April 18, 2019
A man opened fire inside a newsroom, killing five people, but @realDonaldTrump continued to systematically denigrate the media.https://t.co/QYCSKKs2xB pic.twitter.com/uVObO1wwVH
“Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection,” the report said.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 10 journalists have faced physical attacks this year, and 46 journalists were physically attacked in 2017.
The World Press Freedom Index report also cited the five journalists who were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland last June. The attack was carried out by a man who had threatened the publication for years before the attack.
The report also cited the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey last October.
The section of the report on North America specifically stated that the drop in rankings was “marred by the effects of President Donald Trump’s second year in office.”
“Amid one of the American journalism community’s darkest moments,” the report said.“President Trump continued to spout his notorious anti-press rhetoric, disparaging and attacking the media at a national level.”
Since being elected, Trump has referred to journalists as the “enemy of the American people,” and continuously accused nearly every mainstream media outlet of reporting “fake news.” He has also commended violence against journalists, like giving praise to a GOP congressman who assaulted a reporter in 2017.
According to the report, Trump has also called for the revocation of broadcasting licenses and attempted to block certain media outlets from access to the White House. In November, the Trump administration was forced to restore the press credentials of a CNN reporter that had been stripped of his pass after a heated exchange with Trump.
Back in August, United Nations human rights leaders stated that Trump’s attacks have undermined press freedom, and increase the risk of violence against journalists.
“The president’s relentless attacks against the press has created an environment where verbal, physical and online threats and assault against journalists are becoming normalized,” RSF Interim Executive Director Sabine Dolan told NPR.
The Index also found that the Americas has experienced “the greatest deterioration” in its press freedom regional score.
This is not just because of the United States. The report also cited instances in Brazil, where journalists have been targeted by supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro “both physically and online.” Experts often noted that Bolsonaro uses the same “fake news” refrain to discrediting negative media about him.
The report also stated that Mexico is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, noting that “at least ten journalists were murdered in 2018.”
RSF identified North Korea and Turkmenistan as the most dangerous countries for the media, stating that their governments control the flow of information and censor journalists who defy them by using tactics including arrest, torture or killing.
In contrast, Norway ranked as the safest country, a title it has held for the past three years. Finland received second place.
Only 24 percent of the 180 countries in the report were given the rank of being “safe” or “satisfactory” for the press. This is lower than the 2018 Index, which gave 26 percent of countries “safe” or “satisfactory” rankings.
“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”
Woman Wanted Over Columbine Threats Found Dead
- After a day-long manhunt, the woman who posed as a threat to Denver area schools has been found dead by FBI officials.
- Sol Pais was known to have an obsession with Columbine and had made credible threats to the area, causing schools to close on Wednesday as a result.
Woman Found After Search
Officials have confirmed that a woman whom FBI officials were searching for after allegedly making threats to Denver-area schools has been found dead.
On Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning, Colorado Police, Jefferson County Police, and the Denver FBI were actively searching for an eighteen-year-old woman named Sol Pais.
At 10:44 a.m. local time, they announced that there was no longer a threat to the area, but did not say whether or not they had found Pais. Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader confirmed at a press conference an hour later that she had been found dead on a search. The cause of death appeared to be a self-inflicted gun wound.
According to the Jefferson County Sherriff’s Office, Pais traveled from her home state of Florida to Colorado on Monday night and bought a shotgun and ammunition upon arriving. She was known to be “infatuated” with the school shooting that occurred at Columbine in 1999, killing 13 people. The twentieth anniversary of the tragic event is this week.
Authorities said Pais made threats that warranted investigation and was considered armed and dangerous. This prompted schools all school in the Denver Metropolitan area, where Columbine is located, to close on Wednesday. Several schools were also on lockdown on Tuesday afternoon.
The Denver FBI learned about Pais from the bureau’s Miami branch. They alerted the Denver branch of her travels, and of her past comments regarding Columbine, which have not been specified.
“She has expressed an infatuation with Columbine,” Dean Phillips, an FBI special agent said at a press conference on Tuesday. “With the events and shooting that happened tragically 20 years ago. Because of that, we were concerned.”
School Officials Look Forward
The superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, Dr. Jason Glass, thanked both school staff, as well as the public officers and officials who worked to find Pais.
“We are relieved that the threat to schools and the community is no longer present,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Executive of Safety and Security at Jeffco Public School, John McDonald, said that threats to this district are nothing new, but that everyone knew this was serious.
“We are used to threats at Columbine,” he said. “This felt different. This was different.”
The FBI is expected to hold a press conference later today. They are still processing the scene where Pais died.
Dr. Glass said that schools will be open tomorrow with extra safety and security measures on site.