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Tenn. bill adds new challenges to voter registration drives

NASHVILLE PRIDE — The Tennessee House has passed a bill that aims to clamp down on voter-registration drives. House Bill 1079, sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, would fine civic groups organizing voter-registration drives upwards of $10,000 for submitting large numbers of inaccurate or insufficient voter registration forms. Advocacy groups and even individuals could be faced with criminal misdemeanor charges.

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By Nadia Ramlagan

The Tennessee House has passed a bill that aims to clamp down on voter-registration drives.

House Bill 1079, sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, would fine civic groups organizing voter-registration drives upwards of $10,000 for submitting large numbers of inaccurate or insufficient voter registration forms. Advocacy groups and even individuals could be faced with criminal misdemeanor charges.

Charlane Oliver, co-founder and president of the Nashville-based Equity Alliance, said she thinks the penalties outlined in the bill are unnecessarily harsh.

“How do you determine intent, when someone is providing you a form, that you don’t know whether the information is true or not? You have to go off their word, we cannot verify that, and they’re leaving that burden up to groups to do,” she said.

Supporters of the bill, including Secretary of State Tre Hargett, have said HB 1079 is needed to improve election security.

Oliver said local election commissions are supposed to verify voter registration, not the groups helping people register to vote. Last year, she said, a coalition of more than 20 organizations, collectively called the Tennessee Black Voter Project, registered more than 90,000 people across the state, most from majority black areas such as Memphis and surrounding Shelby County.

“And it’s based on the experience that they had back in November, Oct./Nov., of last year, when we did the Tennessee Black Voter Project,” Oliver said. “This is the driver and motivation for the bill.”

Civic groups often organize voter-registration drives in communities where people lack access to transportation, and in rural areas. Oliver said volunteers are on hand to help people understand the registration process.

“People don’t understand that we have a 30-day cutoff in Tennessee, so you must be registered to vote 30 days in advance,” she said. “But most people are not paying attention until at least two weeks before an election, so it’s too late for them by then.”

Oliver said Tennesseans have a dismal record when it comes to voting. Studies have shown state voter turnout consistently ranks among the lowest in the country.

Tags: Equity Alliance fine civic groups organizing voter-registration drives House Bill 1079 Rep. Tim Rudd Tennessee Black Voter Project Tennessee House voter-registration drives.

This article originally appeared in the Nashville Pride

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Community

California Black Caucus Gives Thumbs Up to Law Reforming Courtroom Sentencing

The new law marks a correction to a ruling that was only meant to last two years but ended up lasting 14.

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Protestors raising fists high above heads. Concept of protest, human rights, fighting.

Members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) are applauding a new law Gov. Newsom signed on October 8 that modifies the state court sentencing procedure for crimes.

Senate Bill (SB) 567 requires judges to only hand out sentences with lengths that match a number of years that reflect the median point of the possible term.

Moving forward, according to the new law, sentences will only exceed middle term after circumstances presented to a jury are proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

“We are now in a period of reckoning that requires us to confront the reality and interconnectedness of racism, inequality, and injustice which have permeated our institutions and deprive people of liberty, without the fundamental standards for fairness in our processes,” said Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), who is chair of the CLBC

The new law marks a correction to a ruling that was only meant to last two years but ended up lasting 14.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) held in Cunningham v. California ruled that California’s determinate sentencing law was unconstitutional. The court found that California law impermissibly allowed judges to impose an upper/maximum term based upon facts that were never presented to a jury and deemed to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. This was a violation of the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution right to a trial by jury, according to the SCOTUS.

Later that year, a temporary law was put into place allowing judges to impose any of the three sentencing terms as long as they stated a reason for giving them. The law allowed judges to apply a maximum sentence without granting defendants the opportunity to have a jury determine if the reasoning for the sentence was true or not. The law was supposed to last until 2009 when a review of the sentencing process could determine a long-term solution.

However, the mandate ended up lasting until Gov. Newsom signed the law a little over a week ago.

Bradford was a lead proponent of SB 567 as part of this year’s criminal justice reform efforts.

“SB 567 makes our criminal justice system more credible and is a step in the right direction for criminal justice reform. I am grateful to Governor Gavin Newsom for signing the bill and appreciate the support of my legislative colleagues who voted for the bill because, only together, can we create a system that gives the public more confidence,” he said.

The bill was also sponsored by California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice and supported by organizations such as Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and San Francisco Public Defender.

“SB 567 is a huge step forward in the fight for true justice in the courtroom. The impact of long sentences on individuals and families should not be taken lightly or subjected to arbitrary terms. As a lawyer and someone who has been impacted by the loss of loved ones to incarceration, I find this bill a worthy step in the right direction,” said Joanna Billingy, policy manager for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

SB 567 will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

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Business

Coming Soon to California: A ‘Zero-Fee’ Public Banking Option

Proponents of public banking in California say Wall Street banks have failed low-income communities, particularly people of color. They also say the public banks will provide easier access to capital that will be critical to helping small businesses and neighborhoods rebound after the pandemic.

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A woman sits at her dining room table with laptop and financial reports doing her monthly budget. She is smiling at the ease of use as she works on her smart phone banking app to do monthly finances, pay taxes and save money for the future.

On October 4, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation paving the way for a new public banking system in California.

AB 1177, known as the ‘California Public Banking Option Act,’ creates a zero-penalty, zero-fee, and zero-minimum-balance platform for basic financial services.

These services include direct deposit from employers and public benefits, automatic bill pay to registered payees, recurring payments and donations to account holders’ organizations or charities of choice, and an infrastructure to support account holders in building credit.

“AB 1177 will help Californians stay protected from overdraft fees and penalties and give them an opportunity to save money and build wealth while fighting the racial wealth gap,” said Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), lead author of the bill.

“California is leading the nation’s public banking movement and we must keep working to provide no-fee banking services to all Californians,” he added.

Santiago wrote the bill with the intention to help close the financial services gap that leaves 1 in 4 Californians unbanked or underbanked. Modeled after the state’s public retirement program CalSavers, the bill forms a commission of representatives from the Treasurer’s office, the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, financial access experts and community members to oversee market analysis on how the program should be implemented.

Proponents of public banking in California say Wall Street banks have failed low-income communities, particularly people of color. They also say the public banks will provide easier access to capital that will be critical to helping small businesses and neighborhoods rebound after the pandemic.

“Financial exclusion and scarcity have been a tool for oppression, discrimination and systemic inequity for too long. Public banking options such as BankCal, along with new technology that allows for free exchange over the internet, are urgently needed to decentralize power, privilege and financial control,” said Briana Marbury, executive director of the Interledger Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for standards and technologies that support an open and integrated global financial system.

Opponents of the bill believe that government-owned banks open the door for corruption and that the cost of any mismanagement of funds will come out of taxpayers’ pockets.

A 2015 article published by the Cato Institute critiques past public banking projects, highlighting shortcomings and failures.

Mark A. Calabria, who was chief economist to former Vice President Mike Pence and former director of the Federal Housing and Finance Agency authored the article.

He cites devastating losses Germany’s public banks suffered during the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2008.

Calabria also points to public banking failures closer to home.

“The recent history of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, quasi‐ public banks at the federal level, illustrates that mismanagement and corruption are alive and well at the intersection of the public and private,” he wrote.

However, Trinity Tran, co-founder of the California Public Banking Alliance, argues instead that AB1177 does not create a new bank but “creates a statewide retail banking option through which every California worker can access zero-cost services.”

While California is known for its groundbreaking legislation, it will not be the first state with a banking system like this. North Dakota’s public banking system was founded back in 1919.

Marbury believes that the bill is only the first step toward a broader initiative that would revolutionize accessibility to financial growth and equality.

“This is an exciting development, but not far-reaching enough. Public banking initiatives should be introduced in other states across the U.S. to ensure equal access to financial services for the most vulnerable sectors of our population while elevating the economic health of society as a whole,” she said.

In addition, global financial inclusion should encompass both “brick and mortar” bank access for everyone and a more inclusive internet,” she added.

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Coronavirus

Gov. Newsom Stands Firm on Mandates as State Reaches COVID-19 Milestone

California’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is currently 16th in the country with 71.8% of the population fully vaccinated.

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Moscow - Sep 12, 2021: Vaccinated young woman showing COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, healthy person in mask after getting corona virus vaccine. Coronavirus vaccine shot and immunization mandate.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom took to Twitter earlier this month to praise Californians for getting vaccinated when the state’s COVID-19 rate dropped to 57.3 cases per 100,000 people, the lowest in the U.S.

“Eighty-five percent of eligible Californians have received at least one COVID vaccine shot. The result? California continues to have the lowest case rate in the nation,” he said.

California’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is currently 16th in the country with 71.8% of the population fully vaccinated.

For now, students will be required to be vaccinated for in-person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span (7-12 and K-6).

The coronavirus vaccines will be added to other vaccines like ones for measles, mumps rubella, tetanus, and whooping cough, for example, that are required without exception for all students in the state. For those and other shots explicitly stated in California law, no waivers are allowed for any reason, even religious or philosophical ones.

But even though the state’s COVID-19 rates have flattened and the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths have significantly dropped, the governor is facing mounting protests from people opposed to government-imposed vaccine mandates, including parents who do not want their children to take the shot.

Responding to those critics, Newsom’s campaign sent out a letter that included a survey asking recipients for feedback on his vaccine mandate for schoolchildren.

“As you have probably heard, California is the first state in the nation to require our students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This will go into effect following full FDA approval,” Newsom said in the letter.  “Why did I make this decision? Because it’s the right thing to do, and it will keep our kids safe. This decision may not be popular with some of the people who protest vaccination sites and are opposed to mask-wearing in almost any circumstance, but it will save lives.”

On October 8, Newsom also signed several bills that give dentists, podiatrists and optometrists the authority to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Those bills are Assembly Bills (AB) 526, 691 and 1064.

The governor also tweeted his advice on vaccine booster shots.

“Protect yourself. Protect your loved ones. Get your booster when it’s your turn,” tweeted Newsom.

As it currently stands, booster shots are not required but are authorized for “individuals 65 years of age and older, individuals 18 through 64 years of age at high risk of severe COVID-19, and individuals 18 through 64 years of age whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 puts them at high risk of serious complications of COVID-19 including severe COVID-19,” according to the FDA.

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock highlighted the fluid nature of the nation’s pandemic response.

“This pandemic is dynamic and evolving, with new data about vaccine safety and effectiveness becoming available every day,” Woodcock stated in a press release.

“As we learn more about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of a booster dose, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and keep the public informed,” Woodcock continued.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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