Thousands Rally for Gun Rights at Virginia Protest

Gun-rights supporters demonstrate in front of the state Capitol in Richmond, Va., Monday, Jan. 20, 2020.

Gun-rights supporters demonstrate in front of the state Capitol in Richmond, Va., Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. AP Photo

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Florida Supreme Court rules on voting fines … Taxpayer bill of rights proposed in New Mexico … South Dakota may criminalize providing transgender healthcare to minors.

Thousands rallied in support of the Second Amendment in the streets near the Virginia state capitol on Monday, carrying guns—including some displaying assault-style rifles—but remaining peaceful. Authorities were on high alert about the planned protest, which had been in the works for weeks in anticipation of the newly Democratic-led General Assembly taking up various gun control measures. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, had declared an emergency and issued a temporary ban on people carrying guns on the capitol grounds after law enforcement reported intelligence about militias and hate groups potentially infiltrating the event. Authorities estimated 6,000 people rallied on the grounds, while another 16,000 were in the streets around the capitol. "I think all the organizing shows Virginia people are not happy," said Brian Scholten, a 21-year-old Virginia Tech student. Fears about potential violence were driven in part by the 2017 white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia where one counter-protester was killed. The kind of gun control proposals the General Assembly is expected to consider include background checks, a “red flag” law to allow judges to confiscate guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others and bans on high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons. One man who traveled to Richmond, Virginia from Connecticut to attend the rally said these kinds of erosions of gun rights will create an imbalance between law abiding gun-owners and people who illegally obtain guns. “Criminals are not going to give up their guns. So they will have guns and we won’t,” said Warren Baker. But one Democratic state lawmaker emphasized that legislators are also hearing from people who are in support of new laws. “You will see sensible gun-violence-prevention legislation pass this year,” said Del. Alfonso H. Lopez. [Richmond Times-Dispatch; Washington Post; NBC]

VOTING FINES | The Florida Supreme Court last week sided with Republican lawmakers in the state who argued that people convicted of felonies who've served their sentences must pay all court-ordered fines and fees before they can register to vote. The ballot measure known as Amendment Four, which restores the right to vote after a sentence is completed, passed in 2018, but lawmakers later passed a law which defined “all terms” of sentence to include financial obligations. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, celebrated the court's decision on Twitter. “I am pleased that [the Florida Supreme Court] confirms that Amendment 4 requires fines, fees & restitution be paid to victims before their voting rights may be restored. Voting is a privilege that should not be taken lightly,” he wrote. Critics pointed out that voting as defined by the Constitution is not a privilege but a right, and compared Florida’s system to a modern-day poll tax. Hundreds of thousands of formerly incarcerated people owe fees, fines, or restitution that they are unable to pay and the Southern Poverty Law Center had sued Florida on behalf of those who can’t meet their financial obligations. Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the SPLC, denounced the court decision. “By holding Floridians’ right to vote hostage, the Florida Supreme Court is permitting [an] unconstitutional modern-day poll tax … and redefining an amendment nearly 65% of Florida voters approved of in 2018,” Abudu said. A coalition of other groups said they plan to continue forward with a lawsuit in federal court. [Miami Herald; CBS News]

TAXPAYER BILL OF RIGHTS | A Republican representative in New Mexico plans to introduce legislation that would make it much more difficult for the state to raise taxes. The “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” or TABOR, would be a constitutional amendment requiring any future tax increase to be approved by a three-fifths majority in both chambers of the state legislature. It would also put caps on the state’s annual spending and give taxpayers a rebate if those caps are met. House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, the bill’s sponsor, said that “New Mexico’s taxpayers deserve fiscal responsibility and protection from excessive government spending. With a TABOR amendment we can achieve both goals.” House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, a Democrat, said that the proposal would hamper the state’s ability to pay for education, roads, social services, and public safety. “These services that were so severely cut back for years; we’ve had a crisis. And this bill would prohibit us from ensuring the needs … of our communities were met,” she said. If approved by the legislature, the constitutional amendment would have to be ratified by voters. Colorado is the only state that has enacted TABOR, which Democrats have criticized as resulting in the state failing to keep up with needed infrastructure and education investments. But Colorado voters last fall rejected a ballot measure to allow the legislature to keep—and spend—more revenue. TABOR measures have reached the ballot in five states since 2004, but have been rejected by voters each time. [Santa Fe New Mexican]

TRANSGENDER HEALTHCARE | Forty-five lawmakers in South Dakota are sponsoring legislation that would make it a felony for doctors to provide healthcare services like hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgey to transgender children. Rep. Fred Deutsch, a Republican, introduced the Vulnerable Child Protection Act and said that it is an attempt to press “a pause button” until children turn 18. "To parents, I say, love your kids. Just love them, support them. That's what I'm trying to do with this bill: love South Dakota children. I'm being the grown-up in the room," Deutsch said. Deutsch’s bill would criminalize use of the clinical guidelines for treating transgender children produced by the Endocrine Society, which doesn’t recommend hormonal treatments for pre-pubescent child, and states that those in older adolescence should be cared for by a team of both medical and mental health professionals. Libby Skarin, policy director of the ACLU of South Dakota, said that it is unconstitutional to single out a group of people and categorically ban all care. "Transgender kids, like all kids, deserve a chance to experience joy, to learn in a safe environment, to get the health care that they need, and to survive into adulthood. When the government proposes laws that would stigmatize them and undermine their care, they lose those opportunities,” Skarin said. An identical bill was introduced in the Florida legislature and a Georgia state representative also plans to introduce a bill this session. [Argus Leader; NBC News]

ABORTION AMENDMENT | Lawmakers in Iowa are proposing an amendment to the Iowa Constitution stipulating that women do not have the right to an abortion. The amendment is in response to a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that struck down a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period before an abortion could be administered. The court ruled that the state constitution gives women the right to make their own health care decisions. “Autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free,” the decision said. Republican state Sen. Jake Chapman is in favor of the amendment. "Iowans should retain the right, through their legislative body, to make these types of decisions. Not un-elected judges, judges who with the power of the pen have rewritten our constitution," Chapman said. A three-member subcommittee approved the amendment, the first step in a process that could result in voters considering the amendment in 2022. Democratic state Sen. Claire Celsi is opposed. "This proposed constitutional amendment would put Iowa women’s lives at risk and infringe on their freedom and fundamental rights. I know the real plan here is to ban safe and legal abortion in Iowa,” she said. [Des Moines Register; WQAD]

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