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Equity Initiative: House Minority Leader Driskell Backs Bipartisan Police Reform Bill

Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell carried a bipartisan police reform bill through the committee’s process, earning unanimous support. After months of negotiations with the Legislative Black Caucus, HB 7051 was approved in order to increase transparency and establish more accountability measures into police departments. Driskell pushed the bill in response to citizens’ demands to end the trend of the killing of unarmed Black people. The national attention that sparked protests around the nation revealed the need for greater public safety, which required legislation to ensure that all officers were mentally astute and properly trained in de-escalation techniques. The bill would allow law enforcement agencies to create stricter policies, such as banning chokeholds or requiring officers to report use of force that results in injury or death. House Democratic leaders say they will continue to have conversations with citizens about how the police force can best serve community members.

ARP: Columbus OH, Invests in Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein used $150,000 of American Rescue Plan dollars to stabilize his office’s budget and save the Legal Advocates position in the Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit. Klein’s concerns were realized as forced isolation and increased anxiety about food, housing, and employment during the pandemic led to a rise in domestic violence incidents. Advocates play a critical role, working directly with domestic violence victims through times of extreme trauma and anxiety–trauma and anxiety often stemming from violence amplified by the lingering stressors of COVID19.

ARP: St. Louis Mayor MO, Passed a Plan to Allocate $47.2 Million in American Rescue Plan Funding to Reduce Traffic Violence

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones proposed a plan to allocate $40 million in American Rescue Plan funding to reduce traffic violence. The plan includes infrastructure changes that will discourage dangerous driving behavior through curb extensions, raised intersections, and high-visibility crosswalks. For the first time since 2019, the Board of Aldermen passed a budget on to the mayor’s desk for her signature, and the administration is ready to work with the Board of Aldermen to make our streets safer no matter how residents choose to get around – walking, biking, using public transit, or driving. Speed humps have been approved in the 5800, 5900 and 6000 blocks of Bartmer Avenue. As of recently, Jones signed a bill that would include $12 million for new road design to calm traffic, $14.5 million for accessibility upgrades, and $3.5 million to improve safety at the ten most dangerous traffic hotspots in the city.

 

ARP: Manchester, NH Invests in Public Safety & Violence Prevention

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig will put American Rescue Plan Act funding towards a new gun violence prevention strategy. The city will use a data-driven approach to analyze where gun violence occurs in the city and direct resources towards hot-spot neighborhoods that include areas of high levels of dangerous activity and unrest. ARPA funding will help recruit support from community health workers, youth outreach programs, and an increased police presence. “It’s evidence-based, and the research that we’ve done shows it’s critical to do that layered approach and work with the community in doing so,” Craig said. Additionally, the Department of Public Works will focus on improving green spaces. Mayor Craig is committed to a joint community effort, saying “we can’t tackle this on our own.”

Combatting Opioid Overdoses in Nevada

In response to a rise in fatal and nonfatal overdoses associated with fentanyl, this week, alongside the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services and Governor Steve Sisolak, NewDEAL Leader Attorney General Aaron Ford announced the launch of a new opioid task force. The recent increase in overdoses in Nevada has been severe, with emergency department visits from suspected stimulant-related overdoses having risen by 66% between July and August alone. The new group, named the Joint Advisory Task Force, is designed to provide technical assistance, guidance and resources to local and state jurisdictions, and will work to reduce the risk of overdose and better prepare local and state officials if overdose numbers continue to rise. For more, check out this article on the task force.

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Police Reform for Mental Health and Misconduct

Problem:

As police-led shootings and misuses of force have trending upward, communities of color are disproportionately impacted. Increases in police use of force can be traced to multiple causes, one likely source is the fact that officers have a job that is physically, mentally, and emotionally strenuous, yet they often lack the necessary support to care for their mental health. Consistent stress without appropriate treatment can lead to poor decision making. Another cause is the failure of police departments to provide the records of officers fired for misconduct to other departments, allowing them to be hired elsewhere.

Solution:

Pennsylvania Representative Jordan Harris joined colleagues to champion two police reform proposals to address these serious issues, which passed the PA House unanimously as part of a police reform package in June 2020 and signed into law in July 2020. The bills require officers to be evaluated for PTSD following a lethal use-of-force event, and create a database to track police misconduct to facilitate communication between departments and keep unethical officers from being rehired elsewhere.

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Reducing Racially-Motivated Calls to Police

Problem: 

False phone calls against people of color have been somewhat commonplace for years, but the prevalence of social media today has contributed to increasing awareness of the underlying racism that allows for many of these instances to go unaddressed by the law. Most recently, a specific case that has now inspired the public and lawmakers to address the issue was a white woman calling the police on a black man in Central Park – the caller, who was identified over social media within hours, was charged with a misdemeanor for filing a false report to the police, although the charge was ultimately dismissed. While the caller in this case publicly apologized, no definitive legislative action was taken to ensure that a similar event would not occur again. While social media has led to the identification of such callers and a trial in the court of public opinion, at the very least, little if any action is taken legally, indicating that the systemic and structural changes necessary to address the far-reaching impacts of racist behaviors are still lacking, and that institutional changes are needed.

Solution: 

AB-157 was introduced in response to the surge of false and discriminatory phone calls made on people of color, particularly African Americans.This bill will allow victims to sue the callers in civil court and collect damages. The bill was passed by the Nevada legislature and signed into law by Governor Sisolak as of May 2021, after being amended to include more specific language on what qualified as false calls. Discriminatory false callers that violated the bill would incur a $1,000 fine, as well as any other damages awarded by a jury. 

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Brooke Lierman, Delegate (Baltimore, MD), Michael Naft, County Commissioner (Clark County, NV), and Michelle Wu, Mayor (Boston, MA)

New Infrastructure Plans Rolling Out

Following the signing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, NewDEALers are poised to lead in directing investments to long-overdue projects that will impact the economic vitality of their communities. Many NewDEAL Leaders are already taking action on these priorities. Delegate Brooke Lierman’s Maryland Transit Safety & Investment Act overcame a gubernatorial veto and is set to eliminate the state’s $2 billion public transportation maintenance backlog by spending nearly half a billion dollars each year for repairs and enhancements. In Nevada, Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft celebrated the groundbreaking of a long-awaited bridge project which first received federal funding in the 1990s. “This bridge is an important transportation element and it is also critical for emergency responders,” Naft said. Elsewhere, the Boston Council approved newly-elected Mayor Michelle Wu’s $8 million plan for three of the city’s bus lines to go fare-free, an important step towards making the city’s transportation equitable and accessible. The program will utilize federal funding, and early numbers suggest that ridership will be significantly boosted by the measure.

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Loranne Ausley, Senator (Tallahassee, FL)

‘Foster Children’s Bill of Rights’ in Florida

This week, a Florida Senate subcommittee unanimously passed NewDEALer Senator Loranne Ausley’s bipartisan legislation to codify a bill of rights for children in the state’s foster care system. The legislation compiles the rights of children in the foster care system, ensuring priority is given to their physical, mental, and emotional health. “The purpose of this bill is to place all of the rights that are already in law into one place,” Senator Ausley said. Rebecca Baer, who spent two years in Florida’s foster care system, spoke in support of the bill and “said it felt like she lost about 90% of her rights the day she entered the system,” adding, “at the end of the day, I believe this bill will help youth not go through the same situations that I did.” Read more about the legislation here.

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South City Tech Hub: Creating Digital Equity

Problem

The South City neighborhood in Tallahassee has one of the highest rates of families living in poverty in Leon County (44.8%). Due to COVID-19, almost 800 South City students were unable to experience equal learning opportunities as they did not have the devices, connectivity or technical assistance to fully participate in digital learning.  Students are falling behind in school, parents lack the tech skills to support their students, access employment opportunities, or get medical and other services for themselves and their families.  

 

Solution

The South City Tech Hub provides internet access, technical assistance, and skill building opportunities to Tallahassee’s South Side community by supporting school readiness and success for students and parents. The Tech Hub provides a resource for research, job search, connectivity, tele-health, schoolwork and even legal services.