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Georgia Lawsuit Claims Discrimination Against Puerto Ricans

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  • A lawsuit filed Tuesday claims that the Georgia Department of Driver Services discriminates against people born in Puerto Rico who apply for drivers licenses.
  • The lawsuit claims that, among other things, Puerto-Ricans are forced to take a quiz and answer questions about the island, that requires them to answer questions like “[what is] the name of the frog [that is] native only to PR.”
  • An attorney who works for one of the human rights organizations that filed the suit said the quiz “bears a strikingly disturbing resemblance to the tests applied by segregationists to block voter registration of people of color.”

Lawsuit

Human rights groups filed a lawsuit in Georgia Tuesday, claiming that the state’s Department of Driver Services (DDS) is discriminating against people born in Puerto Rico who apply for drivers licenses

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but the lawsuit says the DDS holds people born in Puerto Rico to much stricter requirements than people from other states or Washington, D.C.

The suit claims that DDS requires applicants born in Puerto Rico to take extra driver exams that are not required of other people with out-of-state licenses, and that it will not accept birth certificates issued in Puerto Rico before 2010.

“DDS also requires that accepted birth certificates and other original identity documents submitted by Puerto Rico-born driver’s license applicants be retained and flagged for fraud review,” the lawsuit continued.

The plaintiffs also accuse the department of forcing Puerto Rico-born applicants to “answer questions about the island that are not required of United States mainland-born applicants, including identifying ‘what a meat filled with plantain fritter’ is called; where a specific beach is located; and ‘the name of the frog [that is] native only to PR.’”

The lawsuit states that because of those requirements, the DDS is violating the Civil Rights Act by engaging in “race-based stereotyping and implicit bias against Puerto Ricans.”

Kenneth Caban Gonzalez

The lawsuit was filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the advocacy group  LatinoJustice on behalf of a Puerto Rico-born man named Kenneth Caban Gonzalez.

However, it also claims that there are most likely more than 40 people from Puerto Rico who have similar claims. Which, if true, would meet the 40-plaintiff minimum required for a class-action lawsuit.

The defendants are listed as the DDS Commissioner Spencer Moore and a specific DDS employee named James Woo.

According to the lawsuit, Caban Gonzalez applied for a driver’s license in October of 2017, after meeting the state’s 30-day residency requirement.

When he went in to get his license, DDS officials took “his driver’s license, his original birth certificate, and his social security card,” and informed him “that he would be notified when to pick up his original identity documents.”

About a month later, Caban Gonzalez received a text from the defendant James Woo, telling him to go to DDS office for an interview.

When he arrived, he was arrested on one count of first-degree forgery and another count relating to making false statements. The criminal charges are still pending, the lawsuit says.

DDS never gave any of Caban Gonzalez any of identification back, forcing him to get a new birth certificate and social security card.

It has now been 600 days since he applied for the license, the lawsuit states, and the department still has not given him a license or told him why they believe his identity documents were false.

DDS also has not given Caban Gonzalez a hearing on the matter, which he is supposed to be allowed under the law. To make matters more complicated, DDS has not outright denied him a license, which means he cannot appeal the decision.

Caban Gonzalez was eventually given a state ID, but the department did not explain why they considered his identification documents sufficient to issue him a state identification card, but not a driver’s license, despite the fact both have the same documentation requirements.

Even though he has some form of state identification, not having a drivers license has made it hard for him to get a job, take his newborn daughter to the doctor, or make other trips, according to the lawsuit.

Response

After the news of the lawsuit broke, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló responded in a statement calling the allegations “absurd.”

“Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and cannot be treated unequally in any U.S. jurisdiction,” Rosselló said.

“If true, I ask Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to address the disturbing irregularities immediately. The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico cannot be subject to illogical and illegal requirements when procuring government services.” 

A spokesperson for Kemp told Fox News that the Governor had asked DDS to conduct an investigation.

“Our team has spoken with DDS Commissioner Spencer Moore and asked him to conduct a full investigation into these claims,” the spokesperson said. “Given that this matter involves pending litigation, we will decline to further discuss any specifics involving this case.”

A DDS spokesperson told CNN that the department has not formally received the lawsuit yet, and cannot comment on it. However, the spokesperson did say that “the department processes all driver’s license applications in accordance with state and federal law.”

However, the spokesperson did say that “the department processes all driver’s license applications in accordance with state and federal law.”

Additionally, another DDS spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the so-called “quiz” questions come from a document DDS released to comply with an open records request, but add that the quiz “is not an authorized DDS document.” 

CNN also reported that a note on the guide for the quiz stated: “While this guide can in no way positively determine if a person was born in or lived in Puerto Rico, it will help determine if the individual has a normal base of knowledge of their claimed birthplace.”

However, Gerry Weber, a senior attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, compared the quiz to a Jim-Crow era law. 

“The so-called quiz, applied to Puerto Rican drivers, bears a strikingly disturbing resemblance to the tests applied by segregationists to block voter registration of people of color,” he said.

Weber’s argument references the fact that DDS’ actions and policies affect more than the ability to drive. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, around 700,000 new voters registered through DDS in 2017 and 2018 alone.

Weber argues that if the department is discriminating against Puerto Ricans, they could be preventing them from voting.

Georgia has recently been accused of suppressing the votes of people of color in the last election. An active lawsuit filed in the state is trying to overhaul the state’s entire election system, arguing that it violates the constitutional rights of people of color.

In March, the House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the allegations of voter suppression in the state.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Fox News) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Trump Rolls Back California Emissions Standards in Move That Could Ultimately Weaken Federal Standards

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  • The Trump administration revoked a waiver that allows California to set its own car emissions standards, the tightest regulations in the country. 
  • The move is part of Trump’s plan to roll back federal emissions standards set by President Barack Obama.
  • While Trump says a rollback will lead to safer and more fuel-efficient cars, analysts warn it could lead to increased fuel use, increased carbon emissions, higher vehicle costs, and lower vehicle sales.

Why is Trump Rolling Back Standards?

The Trump administration revoked a waiver from the federal government on Thursday that allows the state of California to enact stricter car emissions standards.

The move is part of Trump’s plan to roll back federal emissions standards set by President Barack Obama during his first term. 

In a series of tweets announcing the revocation on Wednesday, Trump argued that a rollback of regulations would lead to safer and less expensive cars as well as “little difference” in emissions. 

“The Trump Administration is revoking California’s Federal Waiver on emissions in order to produce far less expensive cars for the consumer, while at the same time making the cars substantially SAFER,” the president tweeted. “This will lead to more production because of this pricing and safety advantage, and also due to the fact that older, highly polluting cars, will be replaced by new, extremely environmentally friendly cars.”

“There will be very little difference in emissions between the California Standard and the new U.S. Standard,” Trump continued, “but the cars will be far safer and much less expensive. Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”

On the claims of increased safety, the Trump administration says ditching Obama-era standards could prevent almost 12,700 car-related deaths over the next 13 years. However, an analysis by the Obama White House claimed the tighter standards would lead to 100 fewer deaths. 

An analysis by Consumer Reports predicted President Trump’s plan could lead to increased fuel costs, higher vehicle costs, and fewer vehicle sales. The nonprofit organization also said rollbacks could harm but “certainly would not improve” highway safety. 

Also according to Consumer Reports, a federal rollback could increase the country’s oil consumption by 320 billion gallons between 2021 and 2035 and would increase emissions by three gigatonnes. 

Despite urging automakers to “seize” on the opportunity, four automakers—Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW—struck a deal with California in July to continue manufacturing cars under stricter standards even if Trump abolished those rules. That then led the Justice Department to investigate the companies for potentially violating antitrust laws. 

How Will This Affect the Country’s Emission Standards?

The longstanding series of waivers to California began with the Clean Air Act of 1970. Since then, 13 other states have adopted California’s strict emissions standards, with the state influencing national—and, at times, international—policy. 

Tailpipe emissions are the leading form of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States, comprising about 20% of the country’s pollution. 

California state officials have said they will block the move, with attorney general Xavier Becerra saying he will sue the Trump Administration, which he claims is violating California’s state rights. 

Some legal experts have begun analyzing how either scenario could play out, with one being that if Trump’s move was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court, it could block states from setting standards for tailpipe pollution. Alternatively, if the Court were to strike it down, that could allow states to set their own emissions standards. Under the second situation, it is likely some states would set tougher laws than others, which could impact how automakers build cars.

Some, including head of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler, claimed California unfairly dictated standards for the nation. 

“The California emissions regulations would impact Americans in other states who have no ability to vote those state legislators out of office,” FreedomWorks, a libertarian advocacy group, said in a statement. “It is regulation without representation at its worst.”

Additionally, Trump plans to reduce a federal Obama-era goal that would require cars to operate at an average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025 down to an average of 37 miles per gallon. The Obama standard is expected to eliminate six billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution, but the Trump Administration has argued that the regulations are unattainable. 

San Francisco Homelessness Violation

In addition to the revocation announcement, Trump also said Wednesday he will be issuing the city of San Francisco an environmental violation because of the city’s homeless population. 

In his reasoning, Trump argued that needles and other waste are turning up on the ocean.

“They’re in serious violation,” he said on Air Force One. “They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed called the remarks “ridiculous” and said the city’s sewage is filtered at wastewater treatment plants instead of draining into the ocean.

As far as the violation goes, it is unclear at this time what that will look like. 

See what others are saying: (The Los Angeles Times) (CBS) (WIRED)

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Ethan Lindenberger “Frustrated” After Being Placed Among Photos of “Dead” Children at Anti-vax Vigil

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  • California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two new vaccination bills on Sept. 9, primarily aimed at reducing the number of childhood medical exemptions issued by the state.
  • Protests at the Capitol temporarily shut down the legislature as the bills were being passed, but protests ramped up later in the week when a woman threw a menstrual cup with what appeared to be blood in it onto senators.
  • Another protest led by an anti-vax group included a vigil for children they claimed had either been harmed or died from vaccines—including 18-year-old Ethan Lindenberger, who garnered national attention after vaccinating himself against his parents’ wishes.

Lindenberger Photo At Anti-vax Vigil

Pro-vaccine advocate Ethan Lindenberger expressed frustration after an anti-vax group displayed his photo among others of children they claimed were either dead or harmed by vaccines.

The vigil followed the passage of two bills aimed at making it harder for parents to get medical exemptions for their children’s vaccinations in California last week.

Lindenberger, who attracted national attention when he spoke to the U.S. Senate after vaccinating himself against his mother’s wishes, said he was at the Global Vaccination Summit in Belgium when he learned his photo was included in the vigil and he immediately thought it was a joke. 

“I was just really confused cause I’m looking through this photo that this anti-vaxxer’s sharing, and they’re totally like, ‘Look at all these dead people,’ and I’m there,” Lindenberger said to Rogue Rocket. “Part of me is like, ‘This is wild,’ so I went through their history to see if they were trolls. Nope, totally legitimate person. And when I shared it with some of my Facebook friends, they were like, this is an actual event… This is actually a thing.”

“And so my whole mindset was like, this is just so wild and proves how half these kids might not actually be dead,” he continued. “It was so frustrating but also—this was like a comedy show. This is not real life. This can’t be real life.”

Just a couple rows above Lindenberg, the anti-vax protestors also included a stock photo of a baby receiving a shot.

Shortly after learning of his photo, Lindenberger posted his reaction on Twitter. 

Over the next few days, Lindenberger defended himself on Twitter as people accused him of being immature, photoshopping the photo, or selling out to a pharmaceutical company.

Ultimately though, Lindenberger stressed that he believes most anti-vaxxers mean well but are the unfortunate targets of misinformation campaigns.

“These people aren’t bad people,” Lindenberger said. “They’re just like misinformed, and even though this vigil was hosted by some people that obviously had no idea what they were doing, they’re just trying to convince people that all these children are dying. A lot of people are just asking questions. That’s why it’s important to just engage with them and just be kind and try to answer questions even if it’s frustrating.” 

Newsom Signs Vaccine Bill

The Sep. 11 vigil followed California Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing of two bills on Sep. 9. 

The first, SB276, permits the California Department of Public Health to investigate any doctor who grants more than five medical exemptions in a year. It will also allow the state to revoke any medical exemptions it deems “inappropriate.”

Before signing that bill, Newsom demanded a companion bill be introduced, which allows students with existing medical exemptions to keep those exemptions until they meet specific educational benchmarks. 

Currently, California requires the submission of vaccination records or exemption statuses for kindergarten, seventh grade, and when a student changes schools. Under the new law, any child who receives a medical exemption before 2020 will still be able to enroll in school under their next grade span.

For example, a student who is in first grade this year with a medical exemption for vaccinations would not need to renew their exemption until entering the seventh grade. Additionally, medically exempt students in seventh grade this year will be able to go through the end of high school without vaccinations.

Other aspects of the bill include limiting temporary exemptions to one-year and allowing the Department of Health to review medical exemptions at schools where the vaccination rate is under 95% or at schools that do not report their vaccination rates.

While those bills were being debated in the legislature, a number of people outside the Capitol in Sacramento protested the bills, with one of the main arguments being that the bills would damage doctor-patient relationships.

“I do not believe I will be writing any more exemptions, even when I feel like they would be appropriate,” Dr. Dane Fleidner, a pediatrician specializing in holistic medicine, told Newsom in a letter. “I do not believe anyone else will either… I have had to put a complete moratorium on medical exemptions due to the nature of this legislation.”

The bill, however, was co-sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association.

Before the bills were passed, protestors blocked entrances, temporarily shutting down the chamber floors. Several people were even arrested, and even after the bills were passed, protestors again shut down the floor. 

Those bills come after growing concerns about the number of unvaccinated children in the U.S. Notably, the country faces a resurgence in measles, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting over 1,200 cases this year—a massive spike in cases from recent years.

In California, the statewide immunization rate for kindergarteners has fallen below 95%, with 16% of counties reporting their immunization rates were actually under 90%. A 95% immunization rate is considered the standard threshold for herd immunity.

All of that comes in spite of messages from doctors that vaccines are safe and effective for the overwhelming majority of people.

“Blood” Thrown on Senators

Following the initial protests and the vigil, a woman sitting in the California Senate visitors’ gallery Friday hurled what appeared to be blood onto senators while yelling, “That’s for the babies!”

Investigators later determined she threw a menstrual cup, it’s unknown if the red liquid in it was real blood.

That woman—identified as Rebecca Lee Dalelio, 43—now faces assault charges, as well as charges for vandalism and disrupting the legislature.

See what others are saying: (Sacramento Bee) (KCRA) (CNN)

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#BoycottABC Spreads After Network Aires Ad Burning Picture of AOC

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  • Social media users called for a boycott of ABC after it aired an ad that showed a picture of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being set on fire.
  • The ad was paid for by the Republican political action committee New Faces GOP, which is run by former congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng.
  • In the video, Heng describes the “horrors of socialism” as pictures of the Khmer Rouge death camps in Cambodia appear on the screen. “This is the face of socialism,” Heng says as the picture of Ocasio-Cortez burns.
  • Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter and called the ad “a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case.”

New Faces GOP Ad

The hashtag #BoycottABC circulated all over social media Thursday after the network aired an advertisement during the Democratic Debates that featured a photo of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) catching on fire.

The ad was paid for by New Faces GOP, a Republican political action committee run by Elizabeth Heng, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in California during the 2018 midterm elections.

“This is the face of socialism and ignorance. Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know the horror of socialism?” Heng says in the ad, while a picture of Ocasio-Cortez burns away to reveal a photo of skulls at a Khmer Rouge death camp in Cambodia.

“My father was minutes from death in Cambodia before a forced marriage saved his life. That’s socialism: Forced obedience, starvation,” she continues, as images from the communist regime under the Khmer Rouge flash on the screen.

“Mine is a face of freedom. My skin is not white, I’m not outrageous, racist, nor socialist. I’m a Republican,” Heng concludes as the ad ends.

#BoycottABC Trends

Twitter users responded to the ad on Thursday and Friday, calling for boycotts of ABC.

Some said that the ad was racist or that it promoted violence.

Others pointed out that the ad was aired by an ABC affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and called for a boycott of Sinclair as well.

Some users also called for a boycott of Disney, which owns ABC.

Other people defended the ad and criticized the boycott.

Ocasio-Cortez and Heng Respond

Ocasio-Cortez responded to the ad in a series of Tweets.

“Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren’t racist,” she wrote. “Life is weird!”

“What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case,” she said in another tweet.

Heng responded to one of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets. 

“Are you really calling me a racist?” she wrote. “I’m calling all Democrats out for supporting an evil ideology.”

In a later tweet, Heng added that Ocasio-Cortez’s response to the ad “is the Democratic party in a nutshell. They are more offended by truthful words than the acts of their political ideology that has killed millions of innocent victims.”

Heng also defended the ad in a statement to Roll Call.

“This ad is about fighting the socialist agenda that has taken over the Democratic Party,” she said. “I am not afraid to engage in a debate of ideas, and it is the AOC extremists that have to resort in name calling because they don’t have real solutions for our country.”

ABC and Sinclair have not made public comments on the incident.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (The Hill) (Newsweek)

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