Federal Judge to Hear Arguments in Florida Voting Case for Formerly Incarcerated People

A federal judge will begin hearing arguments this week in a Florida case regarding the voting rights of people who have been released from prison.

A federal judge will begin hearing arguments this week in a Florida case regarding the voting rights of people who have been released from prison. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Shooting in Kansas City leaves four dead, five wounded … Mobile spends thousands on lawsuit between mayor and city council … Washington state amendment would grant legislature greater powers during catastrophes.

A federal judge will begin hearing arguments this week in a Florida case regarding the voting rights of people who have been released from prison. Voters in the state overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment last fall that would restore the voting rights of 1.4 million Florida residents who have felony convictions and completed their sentences, including parole and probation. Earlier this year, Republicans in the state legislature limited that amendment by mandating that formerly incarcerated people must pay back any outstanding court or legal system fees before regaining their right to vote. The case, brought by the ACLU, the League of Women Voters of Florida and the NAACP, alleges that the legislature overstepped its authority in creating the modern equivalent of a “poll tax” and asks for the judge to block the implementation of the law. The groups calculate that more than 80% of people who have completed their prison sentences have financial obligations and would be barred from voting. State election officials said they don’t know how much is owed because they have no centralized database that tracks outstanding court-ordered fines and fees. Deputy Elections Supervisor Christopher Moore, in an email obtained by Reuters, wrote to a colleague that “this process is not off to a very accurate start and we are playing with people’s eligibility to vote.” Republicans in the state, including J.C. Martin, chairman of the Polk County Republican Party, have said the responsibility to determine how much is owed rests with those who were incarcerated, not state agencies. “If you’re going to register to vote and you’re a former felon, it’s worth double checking to make sure you took care of everything,” he said. The case is urgent because the February 18 deadline to register for the state’s 2020 presidential primary election is approaching, and many people are not sure if they are currently eligible to vote. Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that the legislation passed by Republicans “sows seeds of confusion” and “will chill participation.” [Associated Press; Politico; Reuters]

KANSAS CITY SHOOTING | Two gunmen opened fire in a bar in Kansas City, Kansas early Sunday morning, leaving four people dead and five wounded. The motive of the shooters is not yet known. Officer Tom Tomasic described the environment in the bar as chaotic. “It’s a pretty small bar. You have two guys come in, start shooting, people are just running. People are just running wherever they can,” he said. The police arrested one of the men suspected in the shooting early Monday, but the other remains at large. Juan Ramirez said that his nephew, a father of two children, was killed in the bar. “We’re just in shock and disbelief. I don’t wish this upon anybody,” Ramirez said. Kansas City Mayor David Alvey said his prayers were with the victims and their families. “The businesses and families who live in these neighborhoods are growing our community. They deserve to feel safe in their neighborhoods and businesses and deserve to be protected,” he said. Bryan Barnett, the president of the United States Conference of Mayors, released a statement supporting Alvey and emphasizing their support for gun control measures. "Another U.S. mayor joins the ranks of too many of his colleagues who will be comforting the victims, attending funerals of the murdered and helping his city to heal following a mass shooting…Ninety percent of Americans support strengthening the background check system and the U.S. Conference of Mayors has made passage of such legislation a top priority. Washington has long been in a position to help us prevent such tragedies, but so far has failed to do so. How many mass shootings will it take?” he said. [Kansas City Star; NPR]

MOBILE LAWSUIT | A legal debate in Mobile, Alabama has pitted the mayor against the city council over whether or not the council had the authority to rehire a spokesperson who was fired by the mayor. Mayor Sandy Stimpson sued the council alleging that members overstepped their duty and violated the Zoghby Act, a 1985 law that established the city’s council-mayor form of government, and the council then countersued the mayor. The city has so far spent close to $170,000 in legal fees on both sides of the suit, and the suit now threatens to delay the approval of the city’s 2020 budget. Councilwoman Bess Rich said that the matter never should have been taken to court. “I wish we weren’t tangled up in this situation. Certain issues of disagreement in government should be settled by open dialogue, not a lawsuit where elected officials are pitted against one another in court,” she said. Jen Zoghby, a spokesperson for the mayor, said that the mayor felt the lawsuit was necessary. “We have worked hard to keep these legal expenses to a minimum, and we have negotiated in full faith to settle the case,” she said. [AL.com; NBC 15]

WASHINGTON AMENDMENT | An amendment proposed for the Washington state constitution would give the government increased powers during catastrophes. There already exists an amendment granting the legislature broader abilities following attacks, which was passed by Washington voters in 1962 during the Cold War and allows for the legislature to move the state capital or make changes to the requirements for electing legislators and the governor in cases where vacancies arose following an attack. With the new measure, the amendment would not only apply to attacks, but also “catastrophic events” like earthquakes and tsunamis. State Rep. Roger Goodman, a Democrat, introduced the amendment update to the legislature because he fears the state is at risk of a major environmental event. “The catastrophic incident we anticipate will be the big earthquake that will do such damage that we will need to have procedures in place to have government continue operating,” Goodman said. But some lawmakers, including state Rep. Bob McCaslin, a Republican, said the terms of the amendment are too vague. “You would have to trust government to make these decisions with or without your input. We should demand a better proposal with clear definitions,” he said. Washington state voters need only a simple majority to pass the resolution, which will appear on the ballot in November. [The Spokesman-Review; KING 5; MyNorthwest.com]

ZOMBIE DEER | Wildlife regulators in Nevada are working to keep “zombie deer” out of the state, referring to animals that have contracted chronic wasting disease, a highly contagious terminal illness that causes emaciation, lethargy, and fear of humans. The state is now testing migratory populations of deer and elk for the disease at the state’s borders. States reporting animals with the disease include Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming. J.J. Goicoechea, a state Department of Agriculture veterinarian, said that officials are worried it could spread to neighboring Nebraska, Utah, and Idaho, before making it to Nevada. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. We know that we can’t wrap Nevada in a bubble,” she said. [Associated Press; Newser]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty. 

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