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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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Harvard Rescinds Parkland Student’s Admission Over Racist Remarks

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  • Harvard rescinded the admission of former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Kyle Kashuv after it became aware of racist comments he made about two years ago.
  • Kashuv posted a Twitter thread about the situation, prompting people on both sides of the political aisle to speak up.
  • Some said Harvard made the right call, while others found the situation to be unfair.
  • Harvard has rescinded applications over racist comments in the past and has not made a statement about their decision with Kashuv.

Kashuv Says Harvard Revoked Admission

Parkland survivor Kyle Kashuv claims that Harvard University revoked his admission after old racist comments he made surfaced online.

Back in May, comments Kashuv made about two years ago in a Google doc study guide and in a Skype chat appeared online and were reported on by the Huffington Post. The comments included the repeated use of the n-word, as well as anti-Semitic language.

Since the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 people dead, Kashuv has been an outspoken guns-rights and school safety activist. He has had meetings with President Donald Trump and has become a prominent conservative figure.

He stepped down from a leadership role in Turning Point USA, a conservative non-profit student organization, after his former high school classmates threatened to leak these racist comments. He announced his departure in May and said he was stepping down because he wanted to focus on passing gun legislation.  

On Monday, Kashuv posted a Twitter thread addressing the comments, as well as Harvard’s decision to rescind his admission. He also re-issued an apology that he made in May when the comments picked up attention.

He then addressed the effects the incident has had on him since being picked up by the media. He also shared a letter from Harvard where the school asked for an explanation, but said that they have the right to withdraw an offer of admission.

He responded to the letter by apologizing for the comments and said he has grown since then. Kashuv said he is trying to be a better man to honor the friends he lost during the Parkland shooting. He also reached out to the schools Office of Diversity and Inclusion about his comments and about how to right his wrong.

He then goes on to say that Harvard decided to rescind his admission after receiving his letter of explanation, but he received a separate email from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Kashuv then asked for a chance to speak in-person with Harvard, but the school declined.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Kashuv then addressed Harvard’s own past with previously employing slave owners, and argued that if they have grown, so can he. As of now, he also added that he does not know what his next steps will be as far as attending college next year.

Responses to the News

After posting this thread, Kashuv’s story made headlines and began trending on Twitter, prompting reactions from all sides of the political aise.

A Boston College professor said that since Harvard is a competitive school, his spot should be filled with someone who has not made these mistakes.

Adam Best, who hosts a podcast called The Left said that the right should not be reacting so heavily to this if they did not react to the shooting that so heavily impacted Kashuv’s life.

Comments that controversial right-wing figure Laura Loomer made back in May came up. She allegedly advocated for Kyle to be removed from Harvard.

On the other side, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch believed this was a political attack from Harvard.

Conservative teen activist CJ Pearson said he was able to forgive Kashuv’s words.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro said that Harvard’s choice sets up an impossible standard.

Daughter of the late Senator John McCain, Meghan, spoke on the View saying that she fell down the middle on this issue. She said that while she thinks that some of Harvard’s decision was related to internet mob culture attacking Kashuv for his pro-gun views, she also does not think that his actions were acceptable.

“I had a really hard time coming up with how I feel because I really don’t think it’s too much to ask to not say the N-word from young people,” she said.

This is not the first time Harvard has rescinded the admission of a student based on racist remarks. In 2017, the school revoked the acceptance of ten students over comments they made in a Facebook group for students accepted into the school. Those comments included jokes about race, religion, and sexual violence, as well as racial and anti-Semitic slurs.

Right now, Harvard has not made a comment about Kashuv’s admission.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (Fox News) (Boston Globe)

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Alex Jones Accused of Sending Child Porn to Lawyers of Sandy Hook Victims

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  • Attorneys for the families of Sandy Hook victims who filed a defamation lawsuit against Alex Jones said they were given emails from an Infowars account that contained child pornography.
  • During a segment of his show on Friday, Jones said that he had been set up by the families’ lawyers.
  • The attorneys, in turn, accused Jones of threatening one of the lawyers representing the families and distorting what actually happened.
  • Since April 2018, Jones has been involved in three separate defamation cases filed by the families of Sandy Hook victims over his efforts to spread the conspiracy theory that the 2012 elementary school shooting never happened.

Sandy Hook Lawsuits Against Alex Jones

Lawyers representing the families of Sandy Hook victims in a defamation lawsuit against far-right commentator Alex Jones said that they found child pornography in emails from an account for Jones’ show Infowars that had been turned over to them by his legal team.

Jones has famously supported the conspiracy theory that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School never happened, even going as far as to say that “no one died” in Sandy Hook.

In April 2018, two families whose children were murdered in the Sandy Hook shooting filed two separate defamation suits against Jones. The next month, six other families and an FBI agent who responded to the shooting filed a third defamation suit.

All three of the lawsuits say that Jones’ efforts to spread conspiracy theories about the shooting had lead to the families of the victims being harassed, stalked, and threatened.

In January 2019, a judge overseeing one of the cases ruled that Jones had to turn over Infowars’ financial documents as well as thousands of emails. The next month, the same judge decided that Jones would be required to make a sworn deposition.

Jones gave a three-hour long deposition in March, where he admitted the deaths were real, and said, “I, myself, have almost had like a form of psychosis back in the past where I basically thought everything was staged, even though I’m now learning a lot of times things aren’t staged.”

Lawyers Find Child Porn in Infowars Emails

In court documents filed Monday, the lawyers representing the Sandy Hook families said that when their legal team went through the Infowars emails, they found that the email metadata contained “numerous images of illegal child pornography.”

According to the legal documents, after finding the images, the legal team “immediately contacted the FBI.”

“The FBI directed counsel to give control of the entire document production to the FBI, which was done,” the lawyers wrote. “The FBI advised counsel that its review located numerous additional illegal images, which had apparently been sent to Infowars email addresses.”

The attorney’s also added that if Jones’ legal team “had engaged in even minimal due diligence and actually reviewed the materials before production, they would have found the images themselves,” continuing, “Because the Jones Defendants did not do that, they transmitted images to the plaintiffs that if they were knowingly possessed is a serious federal crime.”

Jones Responds in Show

The court documents said that the plaintiff’s legal team told Jones’ lawyer, Norm Pattis, about finding the child pornography. Pattis then told Jones, who talked about it on The Alex Jones Show on Friday.

“The FBI looked at and said we’re the victim, it was hidden in Sandy Hook emails threatening us, that was child porn,” Jones said. “So it’s on the record we were sent child porn we’re not involved in child porn.”

However, Jones appeared to contradict that statement shortly after by claiming that the emails were planted by the families lawyers. “You’re trying to set me up with child porn, I’m gunna get your ass,” Jones said, after firing off a series of expletives

A little later, Jones specifically named one of the attorneys that represents the families, Chris Mattei. Jones showed a picture of Mattei’s face, then slammed his fist on the photo. “What a good American, what a good boy,” Jones said mockingly. “I’m gonna kill…” he yelled, then trailed off.

Plaintiffs Accuse Jones of Threatening Mattei

In the same court document from Monday, the attorneys for the Sandy Hook families accused Jones of threatening Mattei and his firm.

“Alex Jones broadcast two segments of The Alex Jones Show identifying Attorney Chris Mattei by name and showing a picture of him, falsely claiming that Attorney Mattei tried to frame Jones by planting child pornography in discovery materials produced by Jones, distorting what actually occurred in the discovery process in this case,” the lawyers wrote.

“Here, threats against counsel have been made on air to a very large audience,” they added.

Pattis reportedly responded in a statement claiming that Jones did not threaten Mattei, and said Jones apologized for the statements he made on his show the next day.

Also during his show on Saturday, Jones said: “I’m not saying that the lawyers for the Sandy Hook families set me up or did this.”

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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Phoenix Mayor Apologizes After Police Pull Gun on Family in Shoplifting Confrontation

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  • The mayor and police chief of Phoenix are apologizing after newly released video shows officers using excessive force against a family whose daughter stole a doll from a dollar store in May.
  • The footage shows officers yelling orders at the parents and pointing a gun at the family’s car while threatening to shoot.
  • The family’s attorney is accusing the officers of battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress and violation of the family’s civil rights, and says the family is willing to settle the case for $10 million.

The Incident

The mayor of Phoenix apologized on Saturday after footage emerged showing police officers drawing their weapons on a couple whose 4-year-old had stolen a doll from a local dollar store.

The incident happened at the end of last month when Dravon Ames and his pregnant fiancee, Iesha Harper, took a trip to a Family Dollar store with their two young daughters. According to the couple, they were unaware that their 4-year-old had at some point taken a doll from the store with her back to their car.

Police say they were tipped off about an alleged shoplifting incident by a store employee. Police then found the couple about a mile away at the apartment complex of their babysitter.

What followed as a heated standoff that was captured in now-viral cell phone footage. Video shows the officers shouting profanities at the parents. Officers can be heard telling the couple to put their hands up. “You’re gonna get fucking shot. Get your f*cking hands up.” one officer said.

While one officer points a gun at her, Harper says the car door was malfunctioning, making it difficult for her to exit the car. The couple’s 4-year-old daughter eventually exits from the back seat. Her mother follows, with her 1-year-old in one arm. An officer yells at her to hand the child over and grabs at the child.

A police incident report says the officers feared the mother was “hiding something” or was reaching for a weapon.

Claim Filed

The parents have now filed a notice of claim over the incident. Thomas Horne, the lawyer representing the couple, said the officers committed battery, unlawful imprisonment, false arrest, infliction of emotional distress and violated of the family’s civil rights. In a letter sent to the city last week, he said the family is willing to settle the case for $10 million.

The claim says that officer’s injured the 1-year-old child by pulling on one of her arms when Harper refused to follow an officer’s order to hand over the child.

The filing also claims Ames was thrown against a car and kicked so hard that he collapsed. Then an officer “kept his knee between the father’s legs. He punched the father very hard in the back for no reason,” Horne said.

The claim adds that after Haper handed over her baby to a bystander, the officers placed her and her partner under arrest and said: “I could have shot you in front of your f*cking kids.”

The couple’s attorney said the actions were “traumatic and utterly unjustified.”

Police Response

On Facebook, authorities said Ames admitted to stealing a pack of underwear and throwing it out the window of the car. He also allegedly said he was driving with a suspended license. But Horne says the couple denies telling officers that Ames had stolen underwear.

Neither side can even agree on the day the incident took place. The family’s claim said the incident happened on\ May 29, but police officers said it happened May 27. Police also said they were only made aware of the video on June 11.

The doll was returned to Family Dollar, according to officials. No charges were issues over the shoplifting, however, authorities issued Ames a traffic ticket for driving on a suspended license and impounded his car.

Phoenix police chief Jeri Williama, posted a video to the police department’s Facebook saying she was “disturbed by the language and the actions” of the officer on camera.

“I do want you to know that I expect our employees to maintain their professionalism and proper training at all times,” she added.

Williams also asked that the officers be taken off the street and placed on desk duty.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=622223428279264

Mayor Speaks Out

Mayor Kate Gallego said she was “sick” over what she had seen in the video, which has since picked up national attention. “It was completely inappropriate and clearly unprofessional,” she said.

“There is no situation in which this behavior is ever close to acceptable. As a mother myself, seeing these children placed in such a terrifying situation is beyond upsetting.”

Mayor Gallego has called for a community meeting on June 18, where the police chief is expected to address the public and answer their questions. She also said that in response to the incident, the city will be speeding up its implementation of body-worn cameras across the entire police department.

Now Jay-Z’s Roc Nation has also offered the family support. Team ROC spokesman Didier Morais said Sunday that the group has offered legal and emotional backing to the family.

“Team ROC has reached out to the family to provide legal support, call for termination of the police officers and ‘ensure the well-being of the children,’AZ Central reported.

The family’s current lawyer said that if the city doesn’t respond to the claim within 60 days, he can file a lawsuit.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (AZ Central)


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