Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Rhode Island to help LGBTQ veterans … California attorney general sues Facebook over privacy violations … Federal judge says Trump can’t sue the New York attorney general over tax returns.
A petition asking Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to stop the execution of Rodney Reed has reached two million signatures, some of which came from celebrities like Oprah, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian-West, Beyonce, and the European Union ambassador to the U.S. Reed was convicted of rape and murder in the 1996 death of Stacey Stites, but has maintained that Stites was killed by her fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell. Reed, who is black, said that Fennell was angry that he and Stites, who is white, were having an affair. Reed’s lawyers say they have new evidence, including testimony from friends of Fennell saying he confessed to the murder. Dozens of state and federal lawmakers have now called on Abbott, a Republican, to stay the execution until the facts of the case can be investigated. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted his support for a delay in the execution, which is scheduled for November 20. “Having spent (years) in law enforcement, I believe capital punishment can be justice for the very worst murderers, but if there is credible evidence there’s a real chance the defendant is innocent, that evidence should be weighed carefully,” Cruz wrote. More than a dozen Republican state legislators also wrote to Abbott this week, saying that executing an innocent man would “erode public trust” in the Texas justice system. Republican state Rep. James White, who has served in the legislature for nearly a decade, said that this is the first time he has reached out to the attorney general and the governor to halt an execution. “I do believe there is a lot of information and evidence that does deserve to be vetted,” he said. In his five years as governor, Abbott has stopped one execution out of more than 50 that have crossed his desk. Sandra Reed, Rodney’s mother, protested outside the governor’s mansion to ask him to consider her son’s case. “I heard that Governor Abbott is a good man. Well I say actions speak louder. Show me and the world just how good of a man you are,” she said. Reed has obtained support from some in Stites’ family, including her cousin Heather Campbell Stobbs, who said Reed deserves a retrial. “It’s not justice for Stacey to incarcerate and kill a man when there are so many questions about her death. And we owe it to her to get this right,” she said. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram; KUT; Austin Statesman; Newsweek; The Austin Chronicle]
LGBTQ VETERANS | Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed legislation to make it easier for veterans who were dishonorably discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation or gender identity to receive state and local veterans benefits. The law will provide veterans with a process to change their discharge status to “honorable,” which will then allow them to access state benefits like tax exemptions and tuition assistance. "In the state of Rhode Island, if you're a veteran who's served, you oughta be eligible for veterans benefits that the state provides," said Raimondo, a Democrat. State Sen. Dawn Euer, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said that even though ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was repealed, veterans discharged before that have not seen relief. “Far too many veterans have been discharged, shamed and left without the benefits they earned because of decades of a dehumanizing policy that said they couldn’t serve. They deserved gratitude and honor, and we should be doing everything we can to ensure that these wrongs are righted and that they get the respect they deserve,” she said. [NBC News; Advocate]
FACEBOOK SUED | California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit against Facebook in San Francisco County Superior Court, alleging that the company ignored subpoenas and failed to answer the state’s questions about violations of privacy and consumer protection laws. The lawsuit states that Facebook is under investigation to determine if they violated state law by "deceiving users and ignoring its own policies in allowing third parties broad access to user data,” but that the company is “dragging its feet in response to the Attorney General's investigation [and] failing to comply with lawfully issued subpoenas and interrogatories." Becerra said that there are "serious allegations of unlawful business practices by one of the richest companies in the world.” Facebook has already been fined $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for misleading users about how third party apps use their data. Will Castleberry, Facebook's vice president of state and local policy, said that the company is fully cooperating with the California investigation into privacy violation complaints. “To date we have provided thousands of pages of written responses and hundreds of thousands of documents," he said. [Bay City News Service; WJLA]
TRUMP TAX RETURNS | A federal judge dismissed President Trump’s lawsuit against the New York attorney general and state tax commissioner, who are fighting to obtain his New York state tax returns. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols ruled that he lacked jurisdiction over state officials, but that Trump could sue them in state court. Trump filed the federal lawsuit because New York passed a law earlier this year that would allow the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee to access Trump’s state tax returns. Trump’s lawyers argued that the law “was enacted to retaliate against the President because of his policy positions, his political beliefs, and his protected speech, including the positions he took during the 2016 campaign.” Nichols, however, found that the two state officials Trump sued had “no involvement whatsoever” in passing the law that would allow the House committee to access his tax returns. [Reuters; New York Post]
SPACE INDUSTRY | Legislation introduced in the Senate would create a new facility for space training in Mississippi. Brought by Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, the LIFT Act would create a federal training center where academics, private companies, and NASA personnel could work on new space technology. Wicker said the bill is necessary to prepare for private space exploration, a rapidly growing industry. If approved, the new facility would be located at the existing Stennis Space Center along the Gulf Coast. “This legislation would help ensure the U.S. remains the leader in the commercial space industry and would expand Mississippi’s contributions to the future of space exploration and research,” he said. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he hopes the bill will inspire young people to take an interest in space. “For nearly 60 years, Mississippi has been a leader in rocket engine testing and certification of systems and workforce … As this bill is considered, my hope is that the existing experience in Mississippi is used as the foundation to train the next generation of space explorers,” he said. [WLOX]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.