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Georgia Judge Rules in Favor of Three Sex Offenders Over Sheriff’s “No Trick-or-Treat” Signs

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  • Three sex offenders filed a lawsuit against the Butts County Sheriff’s Office for violating their First Amendment rights by placing signs outside their homes that read: “Warning! No Trick-or-Treat at this address!” 
  • On Tuesday, a federal judge declined to award the men damages but granted their motion to prevent deputies from posting signs on their properties. 
  • The judge did not extend the injunction to all sex offenders in the county but warned the Sheriff about blanket sign-posting.

The Lawsuit 

A federal judge in Georgia issued a ruling Tuesday prohibiting the Butts County Sheriff’s Office from posting signs outside the homes of three registered sex offenders, warning trick or treaters not to visit. 

The signs in question read: “Warning! No Trick-or-Treat at this address! A community safety message from Butts County Sheriff Gary Long.” 

Source: Butts County Sheriff’s Office

When a local Halloween festival was canceled last year, deputies expected to see more children going door to door. To ensure public safety, Sheriff Gary Long ordered deputies to place the signs outside the homes of over 200 registers sex offenders in the days leading up to Halloween. The same strategy was going to be used this year, until three sex offenders filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office. 

Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden, and Corey McClendon argued that the signs were a violation of their First Amendment rights and were essentially a form of compelled speech. 

According to their lawsuit, the offenders questioned whether the sheriff “exceeded his authority” in putting up the signs and whether deputies trespassed on their properties when doing so. The men say they were told that if they removed the sign, they would be arrested or face “criminal action.”

Their suit also says the deputies’ actions caused them harm, including “anxiety, embarrassment and humiliation,” and damaged their ability to trust law enforcement. They sought a jury trial and damages. 

Federal Judge Issues Ruling 

Judge Marc Treadwell heard the arguments in court Thursday and handed back his decision on Tuesday. In it, the judge wrote, “The question the Court must answer is not whether Sheriff Long’s plan is wise or moral, or whether it makes penological sense. Rather, the question is whether Sheriff Long’s plan runs afoul of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It does.”

Georgia displays all registered sex offenders’ names, photos, and addresses in a public online directory. But the statute “does not require or authorize sheriffs to post signs in front of sex offenders’ homes, nor does it require sex offenders themselves to allow such signs.” the ruling states. 

It goes on to say that all three plaintiffs have “paid their debts to society” and now live “productive, law-abiding lives.” 

The judge noted that Christopher Reed was convicted in Illinois for sexual assault in 2007, but for the past six years has been living in Butts County with his father. 

Cory McClendon was convicted of statutory rape for having sex with a female who was under the age of sixteen when he was seventeen in 2001. According to the judge, he is now a full-time student, suffers from an unspecified disability, and lives with his parents and his six-year-old daughter. 

Reginald Holden was convicted in Florida in 2004 for lascivious battery over an incident in 2001. The judge says he has owned a home it Butts County since 2017, lives alone, and works as a warehouse coordinator. 

Judge Treadwell wrote that the Sheriff’s decision to place signs on their homes was not based on determinations that they are dangerous, but instead based solely on the fact that their names remain on the state’s sex offender registry. 

The judge declined to award the men damages, but he granted their motion to prevent deputies from posting signs on their properties. However, the judge did not extend the injunction to all sex offenders in the county.

Judge Treadwell warned the sheriff about continuing this policy saying, “(Sheriff Long) should be aware that the authority for (his) blanket sign posting is dubious at best and even more dubious if posted over the objection of registrants.”

When giving his ruling, the judge added, “To be clear, this injunction in no way limits Sheriff Long’s discretion to act on specific information suggesting a risk to public safety. But he cannot post the signs over the named Plaintiff’ objections simply because their names are on the registry.”

Mark Yurachek, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, told 11Alive his clients were “thankful” for the court’s “thoughtful and measured decision.”

“We hope for and wish that every child in Butts County and in every community in the country enjoys a joyful and safe Halloween and note, as the Court’s opinion did, that the lack of signs in front of registrants’ homes will not affect either their joy or their safety this year or any other year.” he continued.

Sheriff’s Office Responds 

In a lengthy statement posted to Facebook. Long said he “respectfully and strongly” disagreed with the ruling, but will abide by it. 

“I will continue to fight for and protect our children by any legal means necessary,” Long added before laying out his safety plans for Halloween this year. 

“For this Halloween, our Deputies will keep a very strong presence in the neighborhoods where we know sex offenders are likely to be. Deputies will have candy in their patrol vehicles and will interact with the children until the neighborhood is clear of Trick-or-Treaters to ensure the safety of our children on Halloween night.”

He also warned community members who may be frustrated by the ruling to not take matters into their own hands. Long closed his message by encouraging people to share and look at the state’s Sex Offender Registry ahead of Halloween since there is no time to appeal this decision before then. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Fox News) (11Alive)

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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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