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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Proposes Strict Crackdown on Violent Protests

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  • On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called for legislation aimed at cracking down on “violent and disorderly protests,” as well as at withholding state grants and aid from cities with “Defund the Police” measures. 
  • Under his proposed law, a person could be charged with a felony if they block roadways during a protest held without a permit or if they are part of a gathering of more than seven people that causes injury or damage. 
  • It also gives protection to drivers who kill or injure others while “fleeing for safety from a mob” and would bar anyone who is convicted under this bill from becoming a state or local government employee.
  • Critics of the proposed law say that DeSantis is trying to scare people from using their first amendment rights and argue that the driver clause could actually lead to violence against protesters. 

DeSantis’ Proposed Protest Law

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) unveiled a bill on Monday that, if passed, would severely crackdown on protests described as “violent or disorderly.

Notably, that bill would make it a felony to be part of a gathering of more than seven people that causes property damage or injury to other people and to block traffic during a protest held without a permit. The bill also stipulates that drivers would “NOT be held liable for injury or death caused if fleeing for safety from a mob.”

Among those measures, the bill would create a new six-month mandatory minimum jail sentence for anyone who strikes a law enforcement officer “during a violent or disorderly assembly.” 

That also includes offense enhancements for people who throw objects that hit civilians or law enforcement, for people who assault law enforcement “during a violent or disorderly assembly,” and for people from different states who participate in such assemblies. 

On top of that, the bill has a “No ‘Defund the Police’ Permitted” measure, which would prohibit state grants or aid from going to any local government that slashes police department budgets.

It also “waives sovereign immunity to allow a victim of a crime related to a violent or disorderly assembly to sue local government for damage” if that “government is grossly negligent in protecting persons and property.” Essentially, sovereign immunity refers to the fact that the government cannot be sued without its consent.

Anyone who is convicted of participating in “a violent or disorderly assembly” would additionally be barred from becoming a state or local government employee. Convicted individuals would find their state benefits terminated as well. 

Support for the Bill

The bill is a response to nationwide protests where demonstrators have called for racial justice following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Since those protests began, many have called for police departments to be defunded or abolished. 

While there have been documented cases of looting and arson, a September report from the U.S. Crisis Project found that 93% of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful. 

As he announced the bill, DeSantis called it the “boldest and most comprehensive” piece of legislation of its kind.

If you can do this and get away with it, then you’re going to have more people do it,” he said. “If you do it and you know that there’s going to be a ton of bricks raining down on you, then I think people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct.”

DeSantis then went on to criticize cities like New York City, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Kenosha, Wicsonsin. On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department labeled New York City, Portland, and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions.” That came after President Donald Trump ordered the agency to review federal funding for local governments in cities that have faced violence, vandalism, and looting during protests.

“This proposed legislation gives us tools to separate the peaceful from the violent,” Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell told Politico. “It also establishes the Legislature’s direction that we severely punish those who promote violence through the corruption of these demonstrations.”

Like Campbell, DeSantis has stressed that the bill is aimed only at those who incite violence at protests, not peaceful protesters.

Criticism of the Bill

Still, many have argued that DeSantis is using marginal reports of violence to punish all forms of protest and critics of police misconduct.

Among those, Florida’s incoming House Minority Leader, Evan Jenne (D), said, “Most of this stuff is already illegal. He is just Hell bent on silencing any voice of opposition.”

“None of this is about policy,” Jenne added. “It’s about buoying President Trump, who has slipped precipitously in the polls. It’s dog-whistle base stuff.”

Stephanie Porta, executive director of the progressive group Organize Florida, said, “This is out there to absolutely scare people into not using their constitutional rights for freedom of speech.” 

The ACLU of Florida also condemned the bill, and Executive Director Micah Kubic called the proposal “undemocratic and hostile to Americans’ shared values.”

“This effort has one goal: silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians who want to see justice for Black lives lost to racialized violence and brutality at the hands of law enforcement,” he added in a statement. 

Some are also worried that the bill could actually incite violence since it shields drivers that kill or injure people with their vehicles. In fact, several critics have noted that during a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, a counterprotester was hit and killed. That same incident also injured 19 others. The driver of that car later claimed he “felt he was in danger and people were coming at him.”

Where Is the Bill at?

For now, this measure remains simply a proposal. 

It will first have the opportunity to be formally introduced in March 2021 when Florida’s next legislative session actually begins. Until then, committees will start the process of crafting the bill’s language and finding sponsors as they meet later this year. 

The bill’s language will be critically important. That’s because terms like “mob” and “Defund the police” will have to be strictly defined. For example, “Defund the police” can carry several definitions.

In some cases, it means redirecting money for police departments to other governmental agencies for housing, mental health services, and other social programs. In others, people could use it as a proxy for abolishing whole police departments. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (WESH 2 News) (WPTV 5)

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Pelosi Reverses Course, Signals Openness to Stock Trading Ban for Congress

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The move comes as public and bipartisan support for legislation banning Congress members from stock trading has grown in recent weeks.


Pelosi Backtracks on Member Trading

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) on Thursday signaled openness to legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks, reversing her previous position on the matter.

“I do come down always in favor of trusting our members,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “If the impression that is given by some that somebody is doing insider trading, that’s a Justice Department issue and that has no place in any of this.”

“To give a blanket attitude of ‘We can’t do this and we can’t do,’ because we can’t be trusted, I just don’t buy into that. But if members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” she continued.

The speaker’s remarks come as she has faced mounting backlash for voicing opposition to such a ban. 

“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters when asked about the matter last month. “They should be able to participate in that.”

While Pelosi herself does not trade, her husband has invested millions in stocks. Those trades have been made public under the 2012 STOCK Act, which has required Congress members and their spouses to disclose when they buy and sell stocks for the last decade.

But the law has a mixed track record. A recent investigation by Insider found that “dozens of lawmakers and 182 senior congressional staff” have violated the law.

The act also came under intense scrutiny after financial disclosures filed by lawmakers exposed that members of both parties made trades in 2020 that benefited their portfolios after receiving early briefings on the seriousness of the pandemic. 

The Justice Department reviewed some of the cases, but it ultimately did not bring any charges. 

Momentum Grows for Congressional Ban

In recent weeks, pressure to reform the STOCK Act has been growing both among the public and in Congress.

Proponents argue that Congress members should be banned from trading stocks altogether to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest or use their access to classified briefings to make money.

According to a new poll from the progressive firm Data for Progress, 67% of voters support a ban. That number rose to 74% when the respondents were given arguments both for and against the idea.

In Congress, there is widespread bipartisan support for legislation to impose stricter regulations, including among top leadership.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has reportedly said he is considering banning members from trading if Republicans win control of the House and select him as Speaker in 2022.

“I cannot imagine being a Speaker of the House with the power of what can come before committee, you name them and what can come to the floor and trading millions of dollars worth of options,” he told NPR earlier this month. “I just don’t think the American people think that’s right.”

Members of both parties have already put forth proposals. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Az.) introduced legislation that would effectively ban lawmakers, as well as their spouses and dependents, from buying and selling stocks.

The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rolled out a very similar bill, though his version would not include dependents.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Hill) (Business Insider)

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Supreme Court Allows Release of Jan. 6 Documents in Major Loss for Trump

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The high court’s decision initiates the release of White House documents that the former president had attempted to block the Jan. 6 investigation committee from viewing.


SCOTUS Ruling

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s efforts to block the White House from handing over records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Trump filed a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers had requested.

In the suit, he argued that the records were protected by executive privilege, which he said still applied to him even though he’s not president anymore, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden decided not to exercise his executive privilege over the documents.

Trump also claimed that the information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”

In an 8-1 decision with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Supreme Court rejected the effort to block the records from the committee until the issue is resolved by the courts — a process that could take months if not years.

In their ruling, the justices wrote that there are “serious and substantial concerns” regarding whether a former president can obtain a court order to prevent the disclosure of records, especially when the incumbent president waived their right to exercise executive privilege over said documents.

However, they still agreed with the determination by an appeals court that Trump’s claim of privilege over the documents would fail “even if he were the incumbent.”

Records Handed Over to Committee

According to reports, within just hours of the ruling, the National Archives began sending the roughly 800 pages of documents to the Jan. 6 committee.

The documents have not been made public, and it remains unclear if and when they will be.

What is known is the nature of the content that the committee has requested, including records detailing all of Trump’s movements and meetings on Jan. 6. 

Notably, the lawmakers also requested information about plans by the administration to undermine Congress’s confirmation of the electoral college vote and Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the results of the elections.

Also unknown is what the panel will do with the documents if it finds damning evidence. While the committee’s powers are limited in scope, it could make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, which has its own ongoing probe into the insurrection and the events that preceded it.

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

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NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud

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The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.


New York Attorney General’s Filing

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”

The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.

The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage. 

The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.

That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.

In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.

While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.

Alleged Direct Involvement

The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.

The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations. 

According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.” 

Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.

While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.

It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.

Response

Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.

“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”

As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”

Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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