PHILADELPHIA — A dead Eastern coyote hung upside down above a bucket of dried blood in a rural Pennsylvania fire hall, its lips locked in a perpetual snarl. Some men crouched beside it, while other adults twirled spaghetti with a fork, looking on from aluminum chairs. Children held canned sodas and stared. “Thirty-eight pounds even,” the men said when the needle on the scale settled. On this sunny February afternoon last year, 38 pounds wouldn’t take the crown at the 17th annual Sullivan County Coyote Hunt in LaPorte. The weekend-long contest saw 27 coyotes killed, the prize winner coming in a...
'Beyond outrageous': DeSantis’ ignites backlash after surprise call for special session on vaccines mandates
A sudden announcement Thursday from Gov. Ron DeSantis to call a special session to impose restrictions on COVID vaccine mandates pushed by President Joe Biden has blindsided much of Florida's political world.
It comes at a time when lawmakers are in legislative committee meetings leading up to the regular session just months away. That session starts Jan. 11. And Florida has already had a special session to handle details of a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Lawmakers also face a major task — mapping out new legislative and Congressional districts.
Meanwhile, the political campaigns are already in motion, with DeSantis in reelection mode.
And the COVID pandemic continues.
Christina Pushaw, a communications staffer for DeSantis, tweeted that: “Florida is fighting back against unjust and unscientific mandates."
Following the governor's announcement, Democratic lawmakers and other figures weighed in on DeSantis' call for the special session.
“This was a surprise to all of us," Rep. Fentrice Driskell, who represents part of Hillsborough County, said during a Zoom call with state House Democratic caucus. She was joined by Central Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani and Rep. Ramon Alexander who represents Gadsden County and part of Leon. which encompasses the state capital.
Driskell called the potential special session a “distraction" and said that she saw it as DeSantis taking a “direct swipe at the Biden administration."
President Biden has ordered his administration to prepare regulations requiring employees to become vaccinated or else face weekly testing, intending to curb transmission of the coronavirus.
“This move for special session is the governor directly putting the government in the way of our small businesses and their ability to earn a living, to put food on the table. And frankly it's just the wrong move and the wrong message for Florida," Driskell said during the Zoom call.
Here are some other reactions around Florida:
/U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist, a former Florida Republican governor who is running for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, tweeted:
“DeSantis is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on legal fights to tout his right-wing credentials for his presidential bid. And now he's going to waste more money on a 'Soft on Covid' anti-business special session. Everyone sees right through you Ron."
/Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, an elected Cabinet who is campaigning for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial race, released a written statement:
“This is a purely self-serving political ploy by the governor, once again pulling out all the stops to appease – and encourage – extremist positions that fly in the face of science and public health instead of protecting our children, our communities, and our economy. It provides a dangerous platform for extremists who have been threatening those trying to do right to keep their communities safe, and creates a slippery slope by undermining public health policies supported by sound science and the medical community by instead promoting conspiracy theorists and risky unproven treatments.
/State Sen. Annette Taddeo, of South Florida, who recently got into the Democratic primary for governor, said in a written statement: “This is wildly out of step with the majority of Floridians and completely reckless. It speaks to the overreaches this governor will do to take control over private enterprise and health care decisions."
/Mark Ferrulo, executive director of the nonprofit Progress Florida, also weighed in through a written statement:
“While Florida's small businesses and local governments are doing all they can to keep people safe and allow our economy to rebound, our state's governor seems hellbent on continuing this pandemic for as long as possible no matter how many people he gets sick in the process. Today's announcement is another example by Governor Ron DeSantis of spreading medical disinformation and undermining public health in order to play to the far-right and anti-vax fringe."
/State Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat who represents part of Broward and Palm Beach counties, tweeted:
“This is beyond outrageous. When Covid first hit we asked for a special session to address among other things the horrible unemployment assistance system. When Floridians needed help, they said no. Now, for political expediency, we have a special session. Shows you their values."
/State Rep. Angie Nixon, a Democrat who represents part of Duval County, commented in a written statement:
“From businesses and schools, to our health care and front line workers, everyone except Florida's failed governor is shouldering the responsibility of keeping us free from sickness and economic disaster…He wants to light Florida's tax dollars on fire with this special session in order to put public health and livelihoods at risk in exchange for his own political ambitions."
/State Rep. Michael Grieco, a Democrat representing part of Miami-Dade County, tweets:
“Florida is an at-will work state. Your bosses currently can fire/hire you based upon how they feel about the color of your shoes if they want to…but apparently vaccination status doesn't fit the cozy corporate freedom model."
The Republican Party of Florida retweeted a sign seen at DeSantis's Thursday press conference, a parody of the Gadsden Flag with the silhouette of an alligator, reading “DONT TREAD ON FLORIDA."
Rep. Jason Fischer, a Republican who represents part of Duval County, retweeted the same picture adding that: “@GovRonDeSantis is a fighter and a champion of the people!"
Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: email@example.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.
A key suspect in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has been arrested in Jamaica by U.S. authorities and Interpol. Mario Palacios Palacios, a former Colombian military officer was, arrested in Kingston earlier this month. The arrest had remained secret. Palacios' arrest was confirmed by multiple Haitian and Jamaican sources speaking to the Miami Herald on the condition of anonymity. Haiti police say former Colombian soldiers made up the hit squad that stormed Moïse’s private residence in the middle of the night on July 7. Yelling that their presence was part of a U.S. Drug En...
U.S. Senate Republicans blocked the advance of voting rights legislation Wednesday, the second time this year—thwarting again Democrats' attempts to pass federal protections for voters amid a slew of new state elections laws.
“When we are faced with a coordinated effort across our country to limit the freedom to vote, we must stand up and do what is right," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who sponsored the bill, said on the Senate floor just before the party-line vote.
The Freedom to Vote Act would make Election Day a national holiday and set minimum standards each state must have for elections, including two weeks of early voting and an option for same-day voter registration.
Supporters of the legislation say it is necessary to protect American democracy from a recent push to restrict voting access.
Nineteen states have approved more stringent voting requirements this year. Republican state legislators pushed for the restrictions, partly in response to former President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
“If there is anything worthy of the Senate's attention, it is unquestionably this," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who vowed to bring up the issue again. “If there is anything that merits debate on this floor, it's protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out"
But the 49-51 vote along party lines—with Schumer voting in opposition for procedural reasons—demonstrates the challenge Democrats face to advance their agenda in the evenly divided Senate. They need 60 votes and support from Republicans to get past a filibuster and move to debate and a vote on a bill.
Even after moderate Democrats made concessions, no Republicans were willing to let the bill advance and for now it is stalled.
The failure likely will encourage those who want to change the Senate's filibuster rule.
“Protecting the fundamental right to vote is not a partisan issue, and the Senate filibuster should not be used to block debate of this critical legislation," said William Roberts, managing director for Democracy and Government Reform at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.
“Lawmakers should take immediate action to reform the arcane filibuster rules so the Senate can debate and pass this measure. The future of our democracy is at stake," Roberts said.
The Manchin effect
House Democrats passed a more expansive voting rights proposal, called the For the People Act, last March.
But Republicans blocked debate on it in the Senate last summer.
In response, a group of Senate Democrats drafted a scaled-back proposal.They added a requirement for voter identification at the behest of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III, who had voted to advance the earlier bill but still had problems with it.
The new proposal also scaled back controversial provisions affecting the Federal Elections Commission and threw out some revisions to the ethics laws.
Klobuchar introduced the Freedom to Vote Act. Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Manchin were among the original cosponsors.
“Now, crafting this bill, as you know, was no easy feat," Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “It took months of hard work, compromise, and gathering feedback from experts on sensible policies that have been proven to work."
Manchin was key in trying to gain GOP support for the bill, according to Schumer, and met with Republican senators over the past few weeks.
But in the end, Democrats were far from the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky remained staunchly opposed to the bill, which he described as a federal “election takeover."
“This latest umpteenth iteration is only a compromise in the sense that the left and the far left argued among themselves about exactly how much power to grab in which areas," McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
The Republican leader urged his colleagues to vote against the proposal and “continue to do the job the framers assigned it, and stop terrible ideas in their tracks."
Schumer asked Republicans to support the cloture vote and said he would allow a “full-fledged debate" with amendments.
“What we can't accept is a situation where one side is calling for bipartisan debate and bipartisan cooperation while the other refuses to even engage in a dialogue. If our Republican colleagues don't like our ideas, they have a responsibility to present their own," Schumer said.
There is a growing push from progressives to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.
More than 80 progressive groups have formed a coalition, Fix Our Senate, to call for filibuster reform. Eli Zupnick, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide who now works as spokesman for the group, called Wednesday's vote a “moment of truth" for Democrats to overhaul the filibuster.
Democrats do not yet have enough votes to kill the filibuster altogether. At least two Democrats, Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, oppose eliminating it.
But some lawmakers have suggested changing Senate rules to exempt voting rights from the filibuster or altering the rules on debate and amendments so more members of the minority might be willing to proceed.
State voting restrictions
The federal effort comes amid a wave of new restrictions enacted this year in state legislatures across the country, most of them from Republicans.
The number of restrictive voting laws approved in states in 2021 was unprecedented: Nineteen states enacted 33 laws with provisions that will make it harder for some constituents to vote, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law.
State lawmakers in 49 states introduced more than 425 bills with provisions to restrict voting in the 2021 legislative sessions, according to the center.
Some new state laws include provisions to impose more stringent voter identification requirements, ban snacks or water to voters waiting in line, reduce polling place availability, shorten the time-frame for mail ballots or limit the number of mail ballot drop boxes.
Kaine said in a call with reporters Wednesday that his motivation to work on the bill was driven in part by the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, from rioters who wanted to overturn the presidential election.
“Those same lies are being used in states across the country to make it harder for people to vote," Kaine said.
Likewise, Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, urged his colleagues to protect voting rights.
“Most countries that have a January sixth never survive to a January 20th," Bennet said.
Some advocacy groups pushing for federal protections for voting rights—including the NAACP—have said the Biden administration and Democrats should be working with more urgency.
Small groups of protestors stood outside the White House and the vice president's residence this week with signs about voting rights.
Just before the voting rights vote, Vice President Kamala Harris came to the Senate floor to break the tie on a vote to confirm a nominee, and she stayed throughout the vote on the voting rights bill.
Biden and Harris this week called the Democratic senators who have been leading the effort, according to the White House.
In a press briefing earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pushed back against the notion that Biden has not done enough to support the bill, placing the blame on Republicans who will not allow it to move forward.
Biden called the party-line Republican opposition “unconscionable" in a statement released today asking for support of the bill.
“The right to vote—to vote freely, to vote fairly, and to have your vote counted—is fundamental. It should be simple and straightforward. Let there be a debate and let there be a vote," Biden said.
Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.
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