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Court Rules Florida Can’t Bar Felons From Voting Over Unpaid Fines and Fees

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  • On Wednesday, a federal appeals court in Florida upheld an injunction on a law that bans felons from voting if they haven’t paid their legal fees. 
  • In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which granted ex-felons the right to vote once they’ve completed all terms of their sentence. 
  • Then, in 2019, Florida’s legislature and Rep. Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a law mandating former felons to pay all court costs before getting access to voting polls.
  • With the help of voting rights groups, 17 felons sued DeSantis and other state officials in an effort to overturn this law.
  • The latest ruling only applies to the 17 felons in the lawsuit, but it is still seen as a victory for all Florida felons who wish to vote.

Injunction Upheld

A federal appeals court in Florida said on Wednesday that for now, felons can no longer be barred from voting if they haven’t paid fines or fees from their cases. 

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction of a state law that requires convicted felons to settle all legal fines and fees before they are able to get reinstated to vote. The panel agreed to suspend the law until there’s a final ruling on it. 

The decision of the appeals court only applies to the 17 felons who sued Rep. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials in an effort to overturn the law. The plaintiffs and the voting rights groups that represent them argued that the legislation equates to an unfair poll tax.

The appeals court judges agreed, and said that the legal financial obligations (LFOs) law “punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can—and does so by continuing to deny them access to the ballot box.”

While Wednesday’s ruling only applies to the 17 felons in the lawsuit, it is still seen as a victory for all Florida felons. A trial for the plaintiffs is still pending but slated to begin in April, and that’s when the overall constitutionality of the LFO law will be decided.

“This is a tremendous win for our clients and for our democracy,” Sean Morales-Doyle, a senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, told NBC.

Background on Felon Voting Restrictions

Until recently, Florida automatically prohibited all felons from the right to vote ever again. This changed in late 2018 when an overwhelming majority of Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which granted ex-felons the right to vote once they’ve completed all terms of their sentence. Those with murder or felony sex convictions were exempt from this change. 

The passing of Amendment 4 restored voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million people. 

Last year, the Republican-led legislature and Gov. DeSantis passed the law that mandated that former felons pay all court costs before getting access to voting polls.

Supporters of the LFO law argued that Amendment 4 was not meant to restore voting rights for all felons, but only those who have “paid their debt to society,” including monetary fees.  

Helen Aguirre Ferré, the Communications Director for DeSantis, responded to the Wednesday decision in a tweet.

“We disagree and will appeal en banc,” Ferré said. 

Looking Ahead to 2020 Election

The recent ruling is especially significant as the 2020 presidential election approaches. Wednesday’s decision means that the 17 plaintiffs in the lawsuit are eligible to vote in Florida’s presidential primary next month, though other felons with outstanding legal fines or fees are still not.

However, it is possible that by the end of the upcoming April trial, the legal financial requirement law will be deemed unconstitutional, which will allow all Florida felons to vote whether or not they’ve paid the fines and fees from their cases. But if that’s the case, DeSantis and the defendants are still likely to appeal that ruling as well to a higher court.

It is unclear how this is all going to end. Some believe that the courts will move quickly to get it settled before the 2020 election, but the timeline is not fully set. Many expect that this particular case could be taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and ultimately be decided on there. 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NBC) (Wall Street Journal)

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Trump Accuses Healthcare Workers of Stealing Supplies Amid Mass Shortages

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  • President Trump accused healthcare workers in New York of stealing supplies, suggesting that it explained the increased demand for masks.
  • Experts hit back, explaining that because of the pandemic more equipment than normal is needed in hospitals.
  • Meanwhile, healthcare workers all over the country are reporting dangerous shortages of supplies and other personal protective equipment.
  • Some workers have resorted to reusing masks, making their own masks, wearing trash bags, and using other methods that could risk their lives as stockpiles continue to run low.

Medical Shortages 

President Donald Trump is doubling down on accusations that healthcare workers are stealing medical supplies amid an unprecedented country-wide supply shortage.

All over the country, healthcare workers who are already on the front lines risking their lives do not have enough masks, gloves, gowns, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that is crucial for safety.

Recent reports have found that healthcare workers have resorted to reusing and sterilizing masks meant for single use. In some places, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has even told healthcare providers to use homemade gear like bandanas or scarves “if necessary.”

Pictures have been circulating the internet of medical staff wearing trash bags and homemade masks. 

Health officials have been relying heavily on donations from laboratories, tattoo parlors, and construction companies. Some have been forced to buy their own supplies, while others have even taken to Twitter to ask for help getting more with the hashtag #GetMePPE.

Manufacturers have said they will help produce some gear on their own accord. Meanwhile, states and governors have criticized the Trump administration for not helping them enough or sending an adequate amount of supplies, especially masks.

Trump, for his part, has said that governors need to be buying most of their own provisions, not the federal government.

On top of that, at least two major cities with large outbreaks have reported problems with the scant supplies they were sent by the federal government.

On Saturday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the Trump administration sent Los Angeles 170 broken ventilators. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker also said Monday that he had been sent a shipment of the wrong masks.

These shortages are expected to get worse as the pandemic continues to grow. Hospitals all over the country warn their equipment stockpiles will not last through the pandemic. 

Trump’s Remarks

Trump, for his part, did not appear to acknowledge that there was any shortage at all during a press conference Sunday.

“It’s really incredible, frankly. Many of the states are stocked up,” he said. “Some of them don’t admit it, but they have — we have sent just so much — so many things to them and — including ventilators.” 

Trump went on to accuse hospitals of “hoarding” ventilators and insinuated that New York hospitals asked for more masks than normal because healthcare workers were stealing medical supplies.

“How do you go from 10 to 20, to 300,000? 10- to 20,000 masks to 300,000? Even though this is different, something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door?” the president said.

“I think people should check that because there’s something going on, whether — it’s not — I don’t think it’s hoarding; I think it’s maybe worse than hoarding.”

Trump reiterated the same claims again in a press briefing on Monday.

Response

Trump’s remarks received a lot of backlash and pushback from both medical professionals and New York officials.

Many criticized Trump for accusing medical workers of stealing supplies without any evidence, while those workers continue to risk their lives in dangerous conditions because they do not have adequate supplies.

Others debunked Trump’s claim, explaining that healthcare workers need thousands of more masks than they normally need because this is not normal— it’s a pandemic.

“There’s hospital systems that have gone through their entire personal protective equipment stores for the season, they’ve gone through this in a week,” explained CNN healthcare analyst Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

“You’ve got to treat every patient that comes in, even if they’re not coming with a specific coronavirus, covid-like symptoms, you have to still treat them like they might have it,” he continued.

“That means that every single time patients are seen by these doctors, the medical students, residents, nurses, therapists, whoever, they need to be wearing this protective gear. You’re going to be going through a lot of protective gear as a result.” 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, also hit on a similar point while speaking to CNN Monday.

“I have not looked at that carefully, so I can’t really can’t comment,” he said. “I mean, it could be that there are many more patients there that need them and they’re actually not walking out the door, they’re actually being utilized.” 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill De Blasio also contested Trump’s claims

“It’s insulting, it’s outrageous, it’s incredibly insensitive to people right now who are giving their all,” De Blasio said in an interview with NY1 on Monday. “Our healthcare workers are suffering — they’re literally watching some of their own lost to this disease. They’re fighting with all they got.” 

“It’s not true,” he added. “And it’s the wrong thing for him to do and he should just get back to work, be the commander-in-chief and get us help.” 

“If you are not preparing for the apex and for the high point, you are missing the entire point of the operation,” Cuomo said Monday at his daily press breifing in New York. “It is a fundamental blunder to only prepare for today, that’s why in some ways we are where we are. We’ve been behind this virus from Day One.” 

“In terms of the suggestion that PPE equipment is not going to a correct place, I don’t know what that means, I don’t know what he’s trying to say. If he wants to make an accusation, let him make an accusation,” he added.

Defense Production Act

Some have taken it even farther, directly blaming Trump and his administration for the shortage.

Many have accused Trump of downplaying the virus for weeks rather than taking necessary precautions.

“Given the chance to prepare hospitals and health-care workers for the expected influx of covid-19 patients, the Trump administration did not take action to build up supplies of the vital equipment experts knew would be needed,” Deborah Levine, a historian of medicine wrote in the Washington Post.

Levine referenced a report that the National Security Council laid out a 69-page playbook on fighting pandemics that the Trump team ignored.

“Indeed, the administration has so far refused to use the Defense Production Act, or DPA, to ramp up production of even fairly basic but essential medical supplies, despite many urgent calls to do so,” Levine continued.

This is another essential piece of the medical shortages puzzle. The DPA, which is a wartime law, would let the federal government ask companies to make certain things, like masks, and give those companies loans to do so.

Despite the fact that basically all Trump would have to do was say the word “go,” he put off enacting it for weeks, even in the face of enormous pressure.

Trump finally pulled the trigger Saturday, but so far, he has only asked General Motors to speed up production for ventilators they have already offered. He has refused to ask other companies to help produce other products that could be life-saving.

Trump’s reluctance has baffled a lot of people, and he has not given much of an explanation for why he does not utilize this seemingly simple act that has been put in place for a situation exactly like this.

One of the reasons Trump has said he does not want to use the act is because it would turn the United States into a socialist country. 

“We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” Trump said last week.

The act does not cause companies to be owned by the government, it just directs them to make essential and life-saving products.

Trump has also argued that companies are doing enough voluntarily, and so he does not have to compel them to help. But even with companies volunteering, it is clearly not enough to address the current and impending medical shortages.

See what others are saying: (ABC News) (Common Dreams) (Vox)

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Trump Extends Social Distancing Guidelines to April 30, Says He’ll Rely On Health Experts

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  • The Trump Administration is extending social distancing guidelines to April 30, President Donald Trump announced from the White House Rose Garden on Sunday.
  • The announcement comes a week after Trump announced that he wanted to reopen the country by April 12; now, he says that date will likely be around the peak of deaths in the United States. 
  • Earlier in the day, Doctor Anthony Fauci said that a potential 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die of the coronavirus.
  • Trump then said while that number is “horrible,” if his Administration can ensure that number doesn’t reach the millions, it will “altogether have done a very good job.”

Trump Extends Social Distancing Guidelines to April 30

As President Donald Trump’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” social distancing guidelines were set to expire, Trump announced on Sunday that he would be extending those guidelines until April 30.

Trump’s announcement from the White House Rose Garden comes after Trump last week said he wants to see a significant portion of the country return by Easter (April 12). As of yesterday, Trump now says the death rate is expected to peak in two weeks., or right around the Easter holiday.

“The modeling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks,” he said, “so, I’ll say it again: the peak, the highest point of death rates—remember this—is likely to hit in two weeks. Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before victory is won. That would be the greatest loss of all.”

Trump’s announcement also comes after he sent a letter to governors on Thursday in which he announced he would be releasing new social distancing guidelines. Notably, in that letter, he said, “We will suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high-risk, medium-risk, or low-risk.” 

Trump said those classifications could help states make decisions about “maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other mitigation measures.”

Trump’s comments and actions last week worried many public health experts, who argued that returning to normal by April 12th wasn’t feasible. Even one of Trump’s top medical advisors, Doctor Anthony Fauci, tried to walk back Trump’s Easter’s timeline by saying that Trump was “flexible” on that date. 

Despite criticism and concern, Trump had said he would consult with his Administration’s medical experts. On Sunday, Fauci said he and Coronavirus Task Force Doctor Deborah Birx originally approached Trump and asked for the deadline extension. Reportedly, they told Trump that if those guidelines expired, even more people would die.

“I guess we got to do it,” Fauci said Trump told him and Birx after looking over the data. 

Fauci Says Coronavirus Could Kill 100K-200K Americans

Earlier in the day, Fauci spoke with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the union. In that interview, Fauci warned that the outbreak is likely to keep pushing hospitals to their limit.

Tapper also asked Fauci how many millions of people he expects to contract the virus, and while Fauci gave his current predictions, he also warned against making such predictions because of how easily they could change. 

“I’ve never seen a model of the diseases that I’ve dealt with in which the worst-case scenario actually came out,” Fauci said. “They always overshoot, so when you use numbers like a million, a million and a half, two million, that almost certainly is off the chart. Now, it’s not impossible, but very, very unlikely. So it’s difficult to present.”

“I mean, looking at what we’re seeing now, you know, I would say between 100- and 200,000 cases,” he continued, “but I don’t want to be held to that… We’re going to have millions of cases, but I just don’t think that we really need to make a projection when it’s such a moving target that you can so easily be wrong and mislead people.” 

At his announcement yesterday, Trump then referred to those numbers, mentioning the prediction that 1.6 to 2.2 million people could die if there were no intervention efforts at all.

“Think of the number, potentially 2.2 million people if we did nothing,” Trump said. “If we didn’t do the distancing, if we didn’t do all of the things that we’re doing.” 

Trump then called the current prediction of even 100,000 deaths “horrible” but said, if the death count stays between 100,000 to 200,000 people, “we altogether have done a very good job.” 

When Will the Outbreak Ease?

At his announcement, there was concern that Trump might try to continue to push potentially easing restrictions by region or by county. After being asked by a reporter if he would do this, Trump said no, saying that it wouldn’t be good and that he was listening to Fauci and Birx, who weren’t comfortable with the idea. 

Prompted by another question, Trump called his original goal of Easter “aspirational.”He did, however, give a bit of a timeline as to when he thinks the coronavirus outbreak could die down.

“We can expect that by June 1, we will be well on our way to recovery,” he said. “A lot of great things will be happening.”

Monday morning, Trump continued to reinforce the idea that he will be listening to health experts like Fauci and Birx.

“I’ll use my head and I’ll make a decision but I’m going to rely on experts,” he said on Fox & Friends. “Anthony and Deborah have been doing this for many years, and I’m going to rely on them.”

Also Monday morning, Dr. Birx spoke with NBC, where she explained more of the basis for that 100- to 200,000 deaths prediction

“If we do things together well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities. We don’t even want that,” she said.

“The best-case scenario would be 100 percent of Americans doing precisely what is required,” she added, “but we’re not sure… that all of America is responding in a uniform way to protect one another, so we also have to factor that in.” 

Regarding when the outbreak may begin to die down, Birx said that is still too early to know. She said health experts must still wait for more data to come in, also saying that she and others would be looking at that data over the next month to try to answer that question.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (NPR) (NBC News)

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Senate Democrats and Republicans Reach Agreement With White House on $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

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  • After a long day of talks, Senate Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement with the White House on a stimulus package that would now cost the government $2 trillion.
  • On Monday, Democrats shot down a stimulus package designed by Republicans and the White House.
  • The revised package would include an increase in unemployment pay as well as an extension to unemployment insurance.
  • It would also provide $500 billion to companies but would bar President Donald Trump, White House officials, and Congress from taking out loans for their businesses.

Senate Leaders and the White House Reach a Deal

After long talks and worries that lawmakers would go home empty-handed Tuesday, Senate Democrats finally reached a historic $2 trillion stimulus package with Senate Republicans and the Trump Administration around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The agreement, which comes after Senate Democrats blocked a different version of the bill on Monday, includes several noticeable differences.

While Republicans had sought to extend unemployment insurance for up to three months, Democrats convinced them to extend that program for up to four months. Additionally, the bill would reportedly expand eligibility to cover more people, including gig economy workers. 

People eligible for benefits will also see an additional $600 each week from the federal government, on top of their state benefits. On average, people receive $385 in state benefits each week while on unemployment.

The bill also includes $150 billion to hospitals and other health-care providers for equipment and supplies. According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the bill will also increase Medicare payments to all hospitals and providers.

As for direct checks, that breakdown remains unchanged. Adults making under $75,000 would receive two $1,200 checks and two $500 checks for each child. The first of those payments would go out on April 6.

People making above $75,000 would see a dip in that assistance, with payments phasing out altogether for people making more than $99,000 a year. 

Trump and Congress Can’t Benefit From Business Loans

The bill also provides loan options for both small and large businesses. 

Small businesses would receive more than $350 in aid. Notably, those loans would be federally guaranteed as long as a small business pledges not to lay off workers. If an employer continues to pay workers for the duration of the crisis, those loans would then be forgiven.

Big businesses would still receive about $500 billion to be used as back loans and assistance, a provision that originally led Democrats to vote down the previous version of the bill on Monday. 

However, this bill also contains a few key limitations.

The most buzzworthy is that Democrats won language barring any business owned by President Trump from applying for those loans. That includes both Trump hotels and Mar-a-lago. Democrats sought such a measure because of their concern that Trump might try to use this bill to help his businesses, especially since many of them are connected to the travel industry.

Because they barred Trump, the bill also went a step further by also barring White House officials as well as any member of Congress. 

Another limitation is that if a company does take out a loan, it will then be subject to a ban on stock buybacks through the term of the loan and for one year after. 

Republicans also agreed to allow for an oversight board and to create a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery. That is largely an attempt by the Democrats to ensure companies limit executive bonuses as well as take steps to protect workers.

Will the Bill Help the Economy and Will It Pass?

As far as if this bill actually will help the economy, that’s still unclear. With an economy that is slowing down every day and with stocks plunging over the last month, there is worry that it may not do enough; however, with more of the details of this package, stocks did see an uptick Tuesday morning. 

Still, Congress is trying to move this bill into law as soon as possible. Reportedly, they’re rushing it through without public hearings or a formal review of the full bill.

If it passes through the Senate as expected, then it moves to the House of Representatives. Here, things could get a little trickier.

“This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday. “House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action.”

While Pelosi did say that the bill meets some of Democrats’ demands, she didn’t say how the House would vote. On Tuesday, as the agreement was being discussed among Senators and the White House, Pelosi said on CNBC that she hoped the House would pass it with unanimous consent.

While lawmakers are under extreme pressure to get a bill like this passed, unanimous consent may be a tall order for a $2 trillion bill that covers every aspect of the U.S. economy, especially because while the details of the bill have been released, the full document is still under wraps.

Because of that, it’s very possible that some lawmakers might hold off on passing the bill until a formal vote is held, and there have already been some concerns from both sides of the aisle.

If unanimous consent isn’t possible, some version—possibly a very similar version—of this bill will likely get passed; however, taking a formal vote could extend this process by several days. This is because representatives will likely be encouraged to wait an extended amount of time between their trips to the floor to vote.

From there, a couple things could happen. The House could pass a slightly different version. The House and the Senate would then need to hash out those details.

Or, the House could pass the legislation as is and go directly to Trump, who Mnuchin said would “absolutely, absolutely, absolutely” sign the bill.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Los Angeles Times) (CNN)

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