Groups make another bid to block part of Ariz. law

By JACQUES BILLEAUD
Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) – A civil rights coalition asked a federal appeals court Friday to prevent the most contentious part of Arizona’s immigration law from taking effect while they appeal a ruling that sunk their earlier bid to bar police from enforcing the provision.

The opponents asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for an order preventing police from enforcing a requirement that officers, while enforcing other laws, question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally.

Police have been barred from enforcing the questioning requirement, dubbed by critics as the “show me your papers” provision, since July 2010. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June upheld the provision and cleared the way for officers to enforce it.

The coalition responded to the Supreme Court decision by asking a federal judge in Phoenix to bar enforcement of the requirement on the grounds that Latinos in Arizona would face systematic racial profiling and unreasonably long detentions.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton denied the request and asked lawyers on both sides of the case to give input into how the Supreme Court’s ruling should be carried out and when police can start enforcing the provision.

However, it’s still not known exactly when Bolton will say when officers can start to enforce the requirement.

The coalition also asked Bolton on Thursday to hold off on letting the provision from taking effect while they appealed her ruling. Bolton hasn’t yet ruled on that request.

In a 44-page emergency motion filed Friday with the 9th Circuit, the civil rights coalition said “plaintiffs and others similarly situated face imminent and irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction.”

The coalition also noted that the provision “has been enjoined for more than two years and has never been in effect” so “defendants face minimal, if any, harm from an additional injunction pending appeal.”

“This additional legal action is unfortunate but entirely predictable, given that the groups aligned against SB 1070 are determined to do whatever possible to keep this duly-enacted and publicly-supported law from taking effect,” Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, said in a statement.

Brewer’s office previously urged Bolton to let the requirement go into effect, saying the law’s opponents were merely speculating in their racial profiling claims.

The Republican governor’s office has also said police have received training to avoid discriminatory practices and that officers must have reasonable suspicion that a person is in the country illegally to trigger the requirement.

Arizona’s immigration law, known as SB1070, was passed in 2010 amid voter frustration with the state’s role as the busiest illegal entry point into the country.

Among the groups in the coalition seeking the injunction are the American Civil Liberties Union, National Immigration Law Center, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Day Labor Organizing Network and Asian American Justice Center.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Court Approves Schedule for Florida Early Voting

In a motion filed on Wednesday before the United States District Court in Washington, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department did not oppose Florida’s new plan for those five counties, under one condition: The counties must offer 96 hours of voting between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. over eight days, the maximum under the law. The Justice Department sued the state over its new early voting schedule, which would have reduced the number of days for early voting.

With both sides agreeing to the terms, the court is expected to dismiss the suit. But a separate lawsuit filed by Representative Corrinne Brown, a Florida Democrat, over the state’s early voting law is pending, which could still affect the new schedule.

“The approval of these changes is a tremendous victory for Florida voters,” said Ken Detzner, Florida’s secretary of state and chief elections officer. “In the areas of the state already able to implement the changes, we have seen how the changes offer more flexibility to vote, more accountability and faster reporting times on Election Day.”

The question of early voting has been an explosive one in Florida, with critics accusing the state of trying to discourage black voters from going to the polls. In 2008, 54 percent of Florida’s black voters voted early — twice the rate of white voters.

Five of Florida’s 67 counties — including Monroe and Hillsborough — fall under the national Voting Rights Act. The act requires that changes in voting laws in counties or states with a history of racial discrimination must be approved, or “pre-cleared,” by the Justice Department. Rather than wait for permission, Florida proceeded with the new rules for the 62 counties, an unorthodox move that prompted the department’s lawsuit and threatened to create a dual election system here.

Last month, judges in the case barred Florida from rolling out its shortened early voting schedule in the five counties. The judges said the shortened schedule was discriminatory.

“The state has failed to satisfy its burden of proving that those changes will not have a retrogressive effect on minority votes,” the ruling said. The judges compared the move to “closing polling places in disproportionately African-American precincts.”

But the judges left open the possibility of a compromise if the state could reach an agreement with the five counties. The state negotiated with the five county elections supervisors but there was one holdout: Harry Sawyer Jr., a Monroe County Republican. Mr. Sawyer said that the reduction in days would adversely affect working people but also said he would abide by the court ruling.

As part of its election overhaul, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott reduced the number of early voting days from 14 to 8 and eliminated voting the Sunday before the election, in the five federally protected counties and elsewhere. The state kept intact the total number of hours.

State officials said the changes have not discouraged voters. More voters cast ballots early in the August Congressional primary than in any other primary since early voting began in 2002.

Some election supervisors said that fewer early voting days — coupled with fewer precincts — would mean long lines on Nov. 6 and possible disenfranchisement.

“Early voting has saved Florida since 2000,” said Ion Sancho, Leon County’s nonpartisan elections supervisor. “If you take one million off early voting and send them to general voting, what will happen? Lines, lines, lines.”

Others disagreed. “Election Day is going to run very smoothly,” said Mike Ertel, the Seminole County elections supervisor, who added that people would readjust their schedules.

Divisive voter ID law goes before Pa. high court

By MARC LEVY and MARYCLAIRE DALE
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – With 54 days until Pennsylvanians help decide who will be president, state Supreme Court justices will listen to arguments over whether a new law requiring each voter to show valid photo identification poses an unnecessary threat to the right, and ability, to vote.

The high court appeal follows a lower court’s refusal to halt the law from taking effect Nov. 6, when voters will choose between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and as many as two third-party candidates. The arguments will be heard on Thursday morning.

The state’s lawyers say lawmakers properly exercised their constitutional latitude to make election-related laws and that every registered voter, including those suing, will be able to cast a ballot, either after getting a valid photo ID or by absentee ballot if they are disabled or frail.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs insist their clients, as well as hundreds of thousands of other registered voters, do not know about the complicated requirements, do not have a valid ID or will be unable to get one.

“At stake in this case is the fundamental right to vote,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers argued in a 58-page appeal.

The high court normally has seven members. But it will hear the politically charged case with just six – three Democrats and three Republicans – and a 3-3 deadlock would allow the lower court decision to stand. A seventh justice, a Republican, was suspended in May after being charged in a political corruption investigation.

The Republican-written requirement – justified as a bulwark against potential election fraud – was a political lightning rod even before it became law in March. It has inspired protests, warnings of Election Day chaos and voter education drives.

Democrats contend that it is designed to suppress the votes of minorities, the poor, young and others considered more likely to vote for Obama in a state whose 20 electoral votes make it a major player in electing a president.

While Pennsylvania isn’t alone – Republicans in more than a dozen states have recently advanced tougher voter identification requirements – it’s law is among the toughest in the nation.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson last month rejected the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction. In his 70-page opinion, Simpson said the plaintiffs did not show that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable” and, thanks to the state’s efforts, getting a valid photo ID “does not qualify as a substantial burden on the vast supermajority of registered voters.”

But lawyers for the plaintiffs say Simpson ignored state court decisions that should have convinced him that the right to vote deserves special protection against an unnecessarily strict law. They also say Simpson made no finding that the law will somehow achieve public confidence in elections, a key justification used by lawmakers who supported it.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

APNewsBreak: Lawyer Challenges Death Reporting Law

A defense lawyer for a South Dakota woman charged under the state’s new child death reporting law says it’s unconstitutional because it violates his client’s right against self-incrimination.

It’s one of the first attempts to question the validity of the new child death reporting laws that have been passed by several state legislatures following the high-profile death of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony in Florida.

Laurie Cournoyer and her husband, Taylor Cournoyer, 21, are charged with failing to notify police of the death of a 2-year-old girl found in a closet at their rural South Dakota home. They also face five counts of child abuse and drug charges. The Cournoyers are accused of using sleeping pills, methamphetamine and marijuana during the day and a half in July when the child’s death still hadn’t been reported.

They are the first people charged under a South Dakota law passed earlier this year that says a parent, guardian or caretaker who knowingly fails to report a child’s death within six hours could face a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison. It was modeled after Florida’s “Caylee’s Law,” which was passed following the death of Caylee Anthony, who wasn’t reported missing until 31 days after she vanished in 2008 in Orlando.

An 11-year-old boy also has been charged in the South Dakota case. Details of his alleged involvement are not being released because he is a juvenile.

Scott Swier, the lawyer for Laurie Cournoyer, 29, said in a motion he gave to The Associated Press ahead of its filing that he is asking the charge of failing to notify law enforcement be dismissed.

In the motion, Swier said the charge should be dismissed because it violates the fifth amendment. Swier filed the motion and a memorandum in support of it in Charles Mix County Court on Tuesday afternoon.

The law “presents a defendant with the proverbial choice between ‘a rock and a hard place’ – either incriminate herself or commit a crime for failing to do so,” the memorandum in support of the motion says.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Swier said “essentially what the state has done is criminalized a citizen’s right to remain silent.”

According to police affidavits, Laurie Cournoyer had a difficult time recalling recent events and the last time she had seen the toddler. At one point when questioned about the exact time, she said, “Maybe it was yesterday, I don’t know.” She could not recall who had placed the toddler in the closet.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said he could not comment specifically on the motion until the state sees it.

“Because neither the state nor the court has had the benefit of receiving any constitutional challenge to South Dakota’s Caylee’s Law, it is difficult to respond beyond, ‘It is not my interpretation that the constitution protects or creates a right to place a dead child in a closet,’ ” he said.

—————

Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kristieaton

Obama’s Florida Counsel is Making Sure the Votes Get Counted

Stephen Rosenthal

Between recount debacles and contentious electoral laws, Florida doesn’t exactly enjoy a trouble-free reputation in high-stakes elections. That is one reason Stephen Rosenthal, lead counsel for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign in Florida, got involved. “In 2000, I was working for the U.S. Department of Justice, so I was not able to participate in the presidential election,” says Rosenthal, who grew up in Miami. “In 2001, when I moved back to Florida and went into private practice, I vowed to get involved.”

In 2004, Rosenthal litigated a case on behalf of John Kerry’s presidential campaign, which contended that Reform Party candidate Ralph Nader had not followed proper procedures for getting his name on the ballot. That hooked him on elections.

By day, Rosenthal, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is a partner at Miami-based Podhurst Orseck, specializing in appeals and complex litigation. After hours, he’s on the job for Obama for America—work he does almost entirely pro bono. (The only exception is when the campaign retains Rosenthal for lawsuits.)

His campaign duties are not limited to legal issues. “I’m also handling a lot of organizational matters,” says Rosenthal, who was also co–lead counsel for the Obama-Biden campaign in Florida in 2008 and played a similar role in the 2006 and 2010 midterm elections. “We get involved with everything from voter registration to issues that arise from administering the election, such as problems with the ballots. I also recruit other lawyers to serve as poll watchers, then manage that army of volunteers during the election.”

He’s also an advocate for the voters. “Often there are informational hitches, and people do not understand their rights. As volunteers, we’re devising systems to help people enjoy those rights to the fullest. One of the big issues is that every year there are amendments to the election law,” he adds.

Since 2011, such amendments have sparked increasing controversy in the Sunshine State. The Republican-dominated state legislature has worked to curtail early voting and end voting on the Sunday before Election Day—both statistically more common in the African-American community, which also tends to vote for the Democratic Party.

The legislature also passed an amendment requiring a 48-hour turnaround time for third-party organizations to file voter registration paperwork. This hampers the efforts of nonpartisan voter-participation organizations such as the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote. (Opponents of the measures also claim the legislation is designed to suppress votes.) “We decided to work within these constraints, even though we had to devote more resources to meeting the deadlines. Until a federal court’s injunction against the [voter registration] amendment [in June], an enormous amount of paperwork needed to be completed and tracked.”

As the presidential election draws near, Rosenthal’s workload is picking up. In accordance with campaign finance laws, his work for the Obama campaign cannot detract from his day job, so he spends nights and weekends on the campaign, and sleeps less. But Rosenthal views his dual missions—the get-out-the-vote work as much as the partisan politics—as well worth the effort. “My first goal is to make sure the voters—all the voters—have their votes counted,” he says.   

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Insurers, financial planners still spar over Florida’s new annuity-sales law …

According to state regulators, during the first 12 months after the law took effect in January 2011, consumer complaints about false guarantees, excessive fees and other abusive practices fell sharply for a second straight year, having also dropped in 2010, when the measure was passed by the Legislature and signed into law.

“Annuity complaints are down, which also causes enforcement actions to go down,” said Alexis Lambert, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Financial Services. “The Safeguard Our Seniors [regulations] … have served as a strong deterrent and have helped curb the problems we saw in the annuity market.”

Some problems persist. A Winter Springs insurance agent, for example, was convicted this summer in state court of annuity fraud. But most experts agree the law has helped clamp down on problems with annuities: insurance contracts that pay investors monthly incomes, either fixed or variable, for set periods or the life of the recipients.

“My impression is that this law is working,” said Charlie Fitzgerald, a Maitland financial planner and president of the Financial Planning Association of Central Florida. “But in my opinion, it is apparent that the insurance lobby still hasn’t embraced it.”

Earlier this year, insurers pressed for new legislation based on a model developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The industry said the national model would extend the same protections accorded seniors in the Florida law to everyone, while also simplifying the steps insurers have to take to comply with varying laws across the country.

But according to Fitzgerald, the industry proposal in its earliest drafts threatened many of the protections in Safeguard Our Seniors. The amended bill eventually failed to pass the state Legislature.

Industry officials dispute any notion that they are trying to undermine Florida’s new law by lobbying for the national model.

“We believe Safeguard Our Seniors has been effective in Florida, but this national model would make it better,” said Sam Miller, vice president of the Florida Insurance Council. “We have been working with state regulators for the last several years because there was a real problem: abuses by maybe a handful of agents. Our bill would have adopted Safeguard and extended those protections to everyone.”

Miller said the industry plans to lobby for the national-model bill again next spring when state lawmakers convene in Tallahassee for their annual legislative session. Financial planners are still wary of any plan to revise the new law.

“My view is that Florida’s law is much stronger than the national model,” Fitzgerald said. “It has more serious restrictions and penalties for anyone who tries to manipulate seniors into unsuitable annuities.”

Certified financial planners and insurance agents have been butting heads over annuities in Florida and elsewhere because both groups sell annuities to at least some of their clients.

Early voting in Florida wasn’t hurt by new law – Daytona Beach News

Early voting in the August 2012 primary was up 52 percent from August 2008. This impressive showing followed the Republican-dominated Legislature’s passage of a controversial election law that, among other things, decreased the number of days in which in-person early voting was allowed.

Voters, apparently, can find their way to the polls — when real issues motivate them. Issues and hot elections drive turnout. The length of the early-voting period — now eight days — matters less.

Previously, election supervisors could offer up to 14 days of early voting. That was changed in 2011 to eight days. State officials said 367,000 people took advantage of early voting in the Aug. 14 primary. In the August 2008 primary, 240,000 voters cast ballots early, over more days.

The improved early-voting numbers don’t matter to Democrats. They see any attempt by Republicans to alter election laws as an effort to hand the presidential race over to the GOP.

“People are trying to take away your most precious right. Don’t let them,” said state Sen. Nan Rich, a Democrat from Broward County, who is also eyeing a run for governor in 2014.

It’s easy to understand why Democrats are so worried about early voting hours. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, more than half of black voters used early voting for the general election in 2008. Those Florida voters helped propel Democrat Barack Obama into the White House.

So Democrats attacked the law, and the American Civil Liberties Union sued.

Yet on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP won a battle in federal court, when Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, said he would accept the state’s eight-day early voting plan in five counties that the federal government regulates because of past racial discrimination. Those counties are Monroe, Hillsborough, Collier, Henry and Hardee. Because of the federal regulation, those counties were exempted from new rules in August — but they now have to follow most of Florida’s 2011 election law.

The Justice Department is asking the state to still offer 96 hours of early voting, in the eight days, which Scott plans to do. Scott’s plan also has voting on a Sunday that previously did not have voting, according to the Associated Press.

But that doesn’t satisfy critics who believe black voters use early voting more on the Sunday immediately preceding the general election. Florida won’t be offering it then. Instead, according to the Florida Division of Elections website, early voting begins 10 days before an election and ends on the third day before any election in which there is a state or federal office race.

It’s an interesting political debate but it’s easy to forget that early voting is not a constitutional right. The administration of elections is a matter for states to regulate.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia offer in-person early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida — even under Scott’s plan — has very generous options for early and absentee voters.

Compare Florida — which allows early voting and no-excuse absentee voting through mail — to New York and South Carolina, states which offer no early voting and absentee voting only with an excuse.

Scott and the GOP may have partisan motives in reducing the early voting window. Democrats may have partisan motives in wanting very liberal early-voting laws.

In the larger picture, though, it’s voter interest that counts. Florida still has relatively relaxed early-voting rules, and Sunshine State voters appear ready, willing and able to get to the polls on the designated days.

Republicans Are Losing Election-Law War as Balloting Nears

Republicans are losing most of the
court fights with Democrats over whether GOP-backed state voter
regulations will illegally suppress turnout among the poor and
minorities in the Nov. 6 presidential contest.

As the general election begins in earnest following the
conclusion of the Democratic national convention, legal battles
continue in a half dozen swing-states where court challenges
await decisions by state and federal judges.

Last month, U.S. courts rejected election-related laws
passed by Republican-controlled legislatures in Ohio, Florida
and Texas, finding they violated the right to vote. At least 14
cases challenging voter-list purges, provisional-ballot rules,
early voting curbs or photo identification mandates are pending
in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Iowa, Florida and Ohio.

Court rulings in those states, which both parties claim
they can win in November, could tip the presidential election if
the race is as close as it was in 2000 between Al Gore and
George W. Bush, said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the
University of California, Irvine.

“If the outcome depends on Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania
is extremely close, then these kinds of cases can be
determinative,” Hasen, the author of “The Voting Wars: From
Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown,” said in a
telephone interview.

Election Procedures

Much of the litigation stems from revisions of election
procedures Republican lawmakers passed after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008. Proponents argue the laws are
necessary to prevent fraud and help elections run smoothly.
Democrats and voter advocacy groups say the measures are aimed
at disenfranchising likely Democratic voters in a veiled effort
to limit turnout forObama.

“We will continue to commit all the resources and energy
necessary to protect voters’ rights,” Bob Bauer, the top lawyer
in the Obama campaign, said in an e-mail. “This election should
be decided by all eligible voters fully participating, and not
by an electorate that is cynically limited to satisfy partisan
interests.”

Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign, said “Governor Romney believes that every
legal vote should count.”

Besides the cases in so-called battleground states, at
least eight more challenges to election law procedures are
pending in state and federal courts. Of those in swing states,
at least five are in Florida. Another four are under way in
Ohio.

Seven Rulings

Last month, in seven court rulings voiding Republican-
sponsored measures, federal judges rejected new limits on early
voting in Ohio, turned down a requirement for photographic
identification in Texas, and blocked “burdensome” rules
regulating voter-registration drives in Florida and Texas. The
Texas ruling on registration was put on hold Sept. 6 by a
federal appeals court in New Orleans.

Additionally, a panel of three federal judges ruled
electoral districts drawn by Texas’s Republican-controlled
legislature discriminated against minorities in violation of the
Voting Rights Act. A judge-approved interim map is set to be
used instead.

The August rulings were handed down by seven judges
appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, three nominated
by Obama and two chosen by Republican President George W. Bush.

A state judge in Des Moines, Iowa, heard arguments on Sept.
6 over challenges to Republican-backed rules there aimed at
purging non-citizens from the rolls.

Wisconsin Appeal

In Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a
Republican, is waiting to hear whether that state’s supreme
court will consider his appeal to reinstate a photo-ID law that
was blocked by two judges.

The Ohio battle over early voting and provisional ballots
illustrates what’s at stake in the election litigation. No
Republican has been elected president without carrying that
state’s 18 electoral votes. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, at a
campaign rally in Lordstown, Ohio, on Aug. 31, said Obama will
get a second term if he takes the state.

A federal judge there, ruling Aug. 31 in a lawsuit brought
by the Obama campaign, ordered the restoration of three days of
early voting that the Republican-controlled legislature cut
back. In that case, Obama for America claimed that, in the three
days leading up to the 2008 election, 93,000 Ohio voters cast
their ballots.

Ohio Ballots

Four days earlier, another judge in Ohio ruled provisional
ballots can’t be thrown out if they’re filed in the wrong
precinct because of poll-worker error. In 2008, Ohio rejected
14,355 so-called wrong-precinct ballots, according to the
judge’s decision.

Obama won the state by 262,224 votes in 2008.

“Recent experience proves that our elections are decided,
all too often, by improbably slim margins — not just in local
races, but even for the highest national offices,” U.S.
District Judge Algenon L. Marbley said in his Aug 27 ruling,
citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore.

All told, across the U.S., there are at least eight
challenges to state voter-identification laws, six to state
redistricting plans, four to early voting restrictions, four to
voter roll purges, two to registration rules and two to ballot
disqualification measures.

The challengers so far have won favorable rulings in about
10 of the cases.

Right, Privilege

“The courts are making a mistake by saying early voting is
a right and not a privilege,” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior
legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in a
telephone interview. “Until 10 years ago there was no early
voting. It will be interesting to see what happens in those
cases as they get appealed.”

Republicans scored what might have been their only
battleground-state victory in the past month when elected
Republican Judge Robert Simpson in Pennsylvania upheld a state
law requiring a photo ID to vote. That decision has been
appealed to the state’s supreme court, where arguments before
three Democratic and three Republican justices are scheduled to
begin Sept. 11.

State lawyers said in a court filing that the ID
requirement won’t deprive citizens of any rights. The statute
only tightens voter identification requirements to “increase
public confidence that only legally registered voters are
voting,” Alfred Putnam Jr., an attorney for Governor Thomas W. Corbett. said in the filing.

Obama won Pennsylvania by 620,478 votes in the last
presidential election, claiming 55 percent of the total and all
of its 20 electoral votes. The American Civil Liberties Union,
which sued to block the photo ID law, argued the requirement may
end up keeping more people away from the polls than the number
that would have constituted Obama’s margin of victory.

Pennsylvania ID

A state analysis, presented in court, showed as much as 9
percent of Pennsylvania’s electorate might be unable to vote in
November because of the law.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department is investigating
whether the Pennsylvania law violates Section 2 of the Voting
Rights Act, which prohibits states from enacting a voting
standard that discriminates against minorities. In a July 23
letter to Secretary of State Carol Aichele, the Justice
Department asked to review Pennsylvania’s voter registration
lists in addition to driver’s license and personal
identification card rosters.

Matthew Keeler, a spokesman for Aichele, didn’t respond to
a call or e-mail seeking information on the U.S. probe. Mitchell Rivard, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to
comment.

Florida, with 29 electoral votes, combines with Ohio and
Pennsylvania to make up almost 25 percent of the 270 needed to
secure the presidency.

Florida Counties

In Florida, a state law truncating early voting was
rejected for five counties subject to supervision under the
Voting Rights Act. A three-judge panel in Washington ruled Aug.
16 that the change could harm the ability of non-white voters to
cast their ballots.

In the 2008 election, 54 percent of black voters in Florida
voted early — twice the rate for whites, the judges said in
their ruling. According to a report paid for by the Democratic
National Committee, 1.1 million blacks voted in the state in
2008. Obama won Florida by 236,450 votes.

The early voting cutbacks were among several changes in
election procedures passed by the Republican-controlled Florida
legislature last year.

Florida is one of 16 jurisdictions with a history of voting
rights violations that under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
need pre-approval from either the Justice Department or a
special panel composed of federal district and appeals court
judges.

The state is still seeking approval of an updated version
of its early voter plan, which it said in a court filing is
needed by the middle of September.

Voter Registration

In another lawsuit in Florida, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee ruled May 31 that conditions the state
imposed on groups signing up voters, such as requirements that
voter-drive groups turn over registration materials to the state
within 48 hours of completion or face fines of as much as
$1,000, are unconstitutional.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and Rock the Vote
sued to overturn the rules, which were permanently blocked on
Aug. 31.

“These are very high stakes,” Roger Clegg, president of
the Center for Equal Opportunity, a self-described conservative
think tank that opposes racial preferences, said in a telephone
interview. “The election is likely going to be close so there’s
a greater fear that voter fraud could make a difference, and to
be fair, there’s also greater concern that not allowing people
who ought to be able to vote an opportunity to vote could make a
difference.”

The Ohio early voting case is Obama for America v. Husted,
12-00636, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio
(Columbus). The Florida voter registration case is League of
Women Voters v. Browning, 11-00628, U.S. District Court,
Northern District of Florida (Tallahassee). The Pennsylvania
case is Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 71 MAP 2012,
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Texas redistricting case is
Texas v. U.S., 11-cv-01303, U.S. District Court, District of
Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story:
Tom Schoenberg in Washington
at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

After law changes, city alters how development will pay for transportation needs

The move comes after the Florida Legislature loosened growth management laws in 2011 and made concurrency — the requirement that roadways have sufficient space to accommodate increased traffic from a development in order for that development to be approved — optional for local governments.

The Legislature also eliminated from state law the option of transportation concurrency exception areas — the mechanism the city had in place since 1999 to allow developers to pay for an array of transportation improvements that included roads, transit, sidewalks and bicycle paths instead of taking on the costs of new road construction and widening roads that concurrency would mandate.

The rationale at the time was that the cost burden of paying for road concurrency requirements — and the unrealistic prospect of widening certain roads — had stopped development along stretches of West University Avenue, Newberry Road, Northwest 34th Street, Northwest 43rd Street and Northwest/Southwest 13th Street.

But the state’s 2011 changes required that, if local governments opt to continue with concurrency, they must do so by having developers pay through the same funding formula the city previously had said halted development in areas of the city and caused urban sprawl by pushing development toward more rural areas with road capacity.

On Thursday, city commissioners decided to take a different route in the ongoing process of updating the Comprehensive Plan that is expected to stretch into next spring.

A plan that advanced 5-0 with Mayor Craig Lowe and Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls absent would officially rescind concurrency and essentially replace the transportation concurrency exception areas the city had used with a transportation mobility program that would operate much the same way.

Under it, developers either could fund improvements to the transportation system directly or make payments to the city to fund transportation projects.

Commissioner Lauren Poe said that option recognized “the importance of maintaining a consistency with” the city’s current policies and allowed developers to “know what they’re working with and also know what they’re getting from their contributions.”

Representing the Builders Association of North Central Florida, Scott Buchanan, with AMJ Inc. of Gainesville, said the builders organization supported the proposal the city had advanced because it closely adhered to the current policies.

One option the city did not pursue was doing away with concurrency and requiring no payments into other transportation systems from developers.

Onelia Lazzari, with the Planning Department, said that essentially would have opened the door to developers and announced, “Let the good times roll.”

Court Rulings Help Illegal Immigrants’ College-Bound Children

But in separate decisions over the past month, courts in New Jersey and Florida have rebuffed those efforts, adding new limits to the measures state officials can take to crack down on illegal immigrants by denying benefits to them and their families.

The latest ruling came on Friday from a federal court in Florida, which threw out state regulations defining American children of parents without legal immigration status as out-of-state residents, ineligible for tuition breaks given to state residents at public colleges and universities. Tuition for out-of-state students can be as much as three times as high as the rate for residents.

The five students who brought the lawsuit against Florida education officials were born in this country. They had been living in Florida for most or all of their lives and had graduated from public high schools there.

One student, Noel Saucedo, was born in Florida in 1991 and graduated from a high school there in 2010. But according to the suit, he was not even able to complete his application to Florida International University, one of the leading four-year schools in the state system, because he could not provide proof that his parents were legal residents of the United States.

Mr. Saucedo was offered a full scholarship to Miami Dade College, a two-year school, the lawsuit said. But when he could not show that his parents had legal immigration status, he was deemed to be an out-of-state resident. His scholarship was reduced and his tuition was raised, so he could not afford to go to college full time.

Florida’s regulations were adopted in 2010 and 2011, with the most recent coming under Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who took office in January of last year.

In a broad decision, Judge K. Michael Moore of Federal District Court in Miami found the regulations unconstitutional because they “create a second-tier status of U.S. citizenship,” by denying benefits to the students in the lawsuit that were freely available to other Americans.

The policy “does not advance any legitimate state interest,” the judge wrote, while it hindered Florida’s goal of “furthering educational opportunities for its own residents.” The lawsuit was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

Policies to deny college assistance to American children of illegal-immigrant parents build on efforts by many states to deny aid to immigrant students who themselves are here illegally. But they have attracted far less attention than other state immigration laws, even though they affect thousands of Americans in Florida alone.

“Legally, the issue is straightforward,” said Michael A. Olivas, a professor of immigration and education law at the University of Houston. “These children are citizens. These are not kids whose status is at issue at all. The provisions are struck down on plain vanilla equal-protection grounds.”

Lawyers said many American students had been reluctant to challenge the policies for fear of exposing their parents to the possibility of deportation.

That was the situation of an American student, now 18, who brought a challenge anonymously, under the initials A. Z., to financial aid laws in New Jersey. A. Z. had been living in the state with her mother, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, since 1997. After graduating from high school with honors, she was accepted at a four-year state college, according to Alexander Shalom, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who helped bring the lawsuit.

A. Z. applied for state financial aid based on her mother’s yearly income of $4,950. Her application was denied by New Jersey education officials “because your parents are not legal residents,” they wrote, under a policy put in effect in 2005.

In a ruling on Aug. 8, a New Jersey state appeals court rejected that decision. “She is a citizen,” three justices found, adding that the record clearly showed that A. Z. had also shown “lengthy and continuous residence” in New Jersey.

“Here is a citizen being denied rights and privileges because of who her parent is,” Mr. Shalom said. “We think that’s decidedly un-American.” She plans to reapply for the aid next year, he said.

In California, state officials agreed in 2007 to settle a similar lawsuit, putting an end to policies there that denied residency to American students with parents in the country illegally.

Voter Suppression Series Part II: Florida

Florida has had a rough election that hasn’t even started yet, especially for Latino voters. There have already been several overreaches which have been pulled back in Florida, either by the justice system for illegality or by Republicans for marketing purposes to bury the public outrage in the news cycle. This does not, however, indicate that the voter suppression efforts have stopped, or even slowed down.

Jim Greer, former Chair of the Florida Republican Party, went on Al Sharpton’s show to boldly cast the nearly transparent curtain aside from the ugly face of the Wizard of Florida. In Florida, as in other states, it’s not the Democrats’ imaginations that are creating voter suppression issues; rather, it’s the systemic and predictable way in which Republicans are trying to discourage people likely to vote Democrat. They do this by creating arbitrary and unevenly enforced laws to create confusion and ultimately discourage the other side’s voters.

After an electoral spanking last cycle that was largely the backlash to neoconservative overreaches in the Bush Jr. years, Republicans were reflecting on how to deal with the surge of new and minority voters. “I sat in on many meetings where it was discussed how to make sure what happened in 2008, when Obama brought out the college-aged voters, the minority voters, never happened again” said Jim Greer.

Greer talked about how he was invited into many discussions as the head of the GOP in Florida, so he knows where some particularly rotten bodies are buried. There were discussions that early voting was going against Republicans, and so they should shorten it to prevent African American churches from organizing to bring out the vote for early voting. Greer had even given sworn deposition that there were discussions on suppression, but never once in his 3 1/2 years as GOP Chair of Florida had he seen a meeting on voter fraud; he went so far as to call it a “marketing tool of radical Republicans” in state government.

Florida has a rather ugly history of voter suppression, and so is covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring pre-clearance to any new laws which might throw it back to its much more openly racist past. Florida made 80 changes to its voting laws in 2011, and received pre-clearance for all but four. Which ones didn’t get pre-clearance? The ones with the strongest racial overtones that they tried to slip by quietly.

Florida is required by the Voting Rights Act to offer a certain number of early voting hours, however, they tried to structure them in a way so as to discourage minority groups from voting. For example, they did away with early voting on the Sunday before the election, a time known for a huge black turnout because churches in the African American community push their voters to the polls that day; “Souls to the Polls” is what the churches call it. Republicans know that they won’t get more than single digits of that vote, so they want to do away with it as much as they can, cutting down on voter hours and doing away with the Sunday before Election Day to hamstring the Souls. The courts struck this down, finding that it didn’t offer the time required to safeguard the vote from racist rednecks by the Voting Rights Act.

In yet another transparent overreach, Florida came out with a law that required all third-party registration organizations to turn in their paperwork within 48 hours, or be faced with harsh fines. The League of Women Voters called this an impossible requirement that chased them out of Florida, while a high school teacher registering her students faced thousands of dollars in fines. Judge Robert Hinkle, presiding over the challenge to this law, said the law imposes a “harsh and impractical” requirement and struck it down.

Although the 48 hour requirement was struck down, Rachel Maddow shared some information almost too hard to believe. While Republican registration has remained largely unchanged in July of election year between 2008 and this year, jumping a bit from 95,525 to 128,039, Democrat registration has fallen from 259,894 to 11,365— I defy Republicans to come up with an explanation and straight face.

Looking at some of the harsh laws which Florida has passed, it’s easy to see how Republicans have implemented the game plan that Greer talked about them crafting for the past four years. They’re throwing anything they can that may stick to get fewer African Americans and Latinos to vote, constantly discovering secret new belts to punch below. It’s had a devastating affect on registration already, and the Republicans will fight for every law they can keep on the books without costing them more than it’s worth. With Romney’s unpopularity, this move is important enough to them that Republicans will probably be tattooing this issue’s talking points on their henchmen.


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Proposal prolongs health debate

Opponents of Amendment 1, including one of today’s Front Burner columnists, argue that the amendment is pointless; the president’s law has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and federal law supersedes state laws. They see the amendment as part of an ideologically driven campaign to undermine the law and mislead voters.

But supporters of the amendment, including the other Front Burner columnist today, argue that other legal challenges against the law are still pending. They also point out that the statute could be repealed if Republicans take the White House and full control of Congress after November. They see the upcoming vote on Amendment 1 as an opportunity for voters to make their voices heard on health reform.

Read the columns

Intro: Proposal prolongs health debate

Robert F. Sanchez: Amend Fla. Constitution to send D.C. clear message

Greg Mellowe: Bid to block law misleads families and businesses

Read more about it

-A case against the federal health reform law in Florida can be found at jamesmadison.org under the issues tab.

-A pitch for the Affordable Care Act is at floridachain.org under featured topics.

-The Florida League of Women Voters give details on Amendment 1 in its voter guide at bereadytovote.org.

This is the first in a series of Front Burner features on proposed Florida constitutional amendments on the November ballot.