Fed, State and Local Activity: Mar 25 – 29

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LOCAL

Alachua County Commission Regular Meeting. A summary of the meetings can be found here. Please note that there will be no evening session.
Date: Tuesday, March 26
Time: 9am
Location: 12 SE 1st Street, Second Floor, John “Jack” Durrance Auditorium, Board Room 209

There will also be an Alachua County Commission Special Session to discuss “draft updates to the Comprehensive Plan”. More info can be found here.
Date: Thursday, March 28
Time: 1:30pm
Location: 12 SE 1st Street, Second Floor, Grace Knight Conference Room

STATE

Before we dig in, the Alachua County Labor Coalition will focus much of their March meeting this Tuesday on bills that deserve your attention. Our own Sandy Parker will be talking about a few of the bills we discuss below.
Date: Tuesday, March 26
Time: 6pm – 7:30pm (meeting actually starts at 6:30pm).
Location: Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Gainesville
1236 NW 18th Ave, Gainesville, Florida 32609

The biggest issue right now in Tallahassee has to be the GOP’s attempt to undermine Amendment Four, which restores voting rights to felons who have served their time and was passed by 65% of voters in Florida last November.

Recall that the language of the amendment required “automatic” restoration of voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation” except those “convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.”

The key words are “parole and probation”. Last week, the Republican-controlled Florida House Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted to pass a bill that would also require ex-felons to pay any outstanding fines or fees, a requirement not mentioned in the amendment, but one that could prevent up to 80% of returning citizens from being able to register to vote. (More on that can be found here.)

Additionally, according to the article linked to above, “the majority of such fines are never paid because most convicted felons do not have the resources to pay them. Just 19 percent of some $1 billion in fines were paid off between 2013 and 2018, the outlet noted. Florida’s court clerks’ association says that 83 percent of fines are not expected to be paid off.

“Because these fines are rarely paid but the state relies on them to fund their entire court system, clerks often tack on as much in fines as possible, The Daily Beast reported, making it even less likely that many people will be able to pay them.

“WLRN reported that even nonviolent low-level drug convictions carry mandatory fines of at least $25,000 and up to $500,000 for each charge. Florida law also allows private debt collectors to charge people another 25 to 40 percent of the fine as their commission.”

To many people, this seems like a poll tax, pure and simple, a vestige of the Jim Crow era. And before anyone tells you the words “victim restitution,”these fines are different. According to another piece (here), “Florida calls some of these fines ‘restitution,’ but they’re a far cry from the standard definition of that concept. Typically, restitution requires defendants to compensate their victims and constitutes part of their criminal sentence. But Florida stretches restitution to encompass fines paid to the state to subsidize courts, county governments, police departments, and investigators.”

Please contact your state representative and implore them to honor the will of the people.

Here is the contact information for (most of) your House Representatives
House District 20: Clovis Watson, Jr.: (850) 717-5020
House District 21: Chuck Clemons (850) 717-5021
Senate District 8: Keith Perry (850) 487-5008
(If I didn’t include your House representative, you can find their contact info here. And you can find your Senator here.)

HB 7093: School Safety: Another highly controversial bill is the state’s move to arm teachers. The House bill made it out of the Education Committee (read about it here) while the Senate counterpart (SB 7030) will be taken up by the Infrastructure and Security Committee this week. Our friends at Moms Demand Action wrote an editorial for the Gainesville Sun this week (which can be read here) in which they point out what legislators are willing to ignore:

“Available evidence suggests that arming school personnel would decrease, rather than increase, school safety. National law enforcement and educator associations oppose the arming of teachers, as do Gainesville’s city government and police department.

“For a gun to be useful in an active-shooter scenario, it would need to be kept loaded and readily available. But classrooms can be chaotic, distracting environments. If a teacher can access a gun, so can a student.

“Guns are not allowed on the premises in local psychiatric hospitals or jails because of the risk that they could fall into the wrong hands. Why should we be willing to take that risk in our children’s classrooms?”

Here are some quick updates on some bills that we’ve mentioned in previous:

Health Care Facility Market Barriers: HB21, which we wrote about a couple of weeks ago (here) seeks to deregulate healthcare in the state by doing away with Certificates of Need (which you can read about here). It passed the House, but looks to have stalled out in the Senate, as the sponsor has put it on hold because she fears there isn’t enough GOP support. Read more here.

SB 186 seeks to make certain videos and pictures taken during active shooter incidents exempt from public record. This bill, which has been amended to clarify which information can–and cannot–be withheld from the public, will be voted on this week in the Senate. More info can be found here.

FEDERAL

One would imagine that all of DC will be parsing over the Mueller Report and who will get to see it. As far as actual legislation, please click here to see what bills will be on this week’s docket.

Have a great week!

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