William March: Grant and Warren spar online over Amendment 4

Tampa Republican state Rep. Jamie Grant and Democratic Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren have feuded recently on Twitter over the restoration of former felons’ voting rights.
Tampa Republican state Rep. Jamie Grant (left) and Democratic Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren have feuded recently on Twitter over the restoration of former felons’ voting rights. [SCOTT KEELER | Times (2017)]  [MONICA HERNDON | Times (2018)])
Tampa Republican state Rep. Jamie Grant (left) and Democratic Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren have feuded recently on Twitter over the restoration of former felons’ voting rights. [SCOTT KEELER | Times (2017)] [MONICA HERNDON | Times (2018)])
Published April 11
Updated April 17

Democratic Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren and Tampa Republican state Rep. Jamie Grant have been feuding on Twitter over restoration of former felons’ voting rights under Amendment 4.

Grant is the lead House sponsor of a bill that would require repayment of all restitution, fines and court fees before allowing voting rights restoration.

He says that’s how the amendment was sold to the public, but supporters, including Warren, say those payments often aren’t part of the sentence. They charge Grant and Republicans are trying to undermine the amendment, and the voters’ will, because the new voters would be mostly black and Democrats.

“In passing #Amendment4, Floridians clearly voiced their desire to restore the right to vote to 1.4 million disenfranchised voters. We cannot let the Legislature erect roadblocks that silence our voice,” Warren tweeted late in March, citing an editorial describing the bill as a “poll tax,” a fee once used to disenfranchise black voters.

The pair tweeted back and forth over what Grant said was Warren’s implicit accusation of racism and whether court fees are part of a sentence. Grant asked whether judges ever waive the costs, and things went downhill from there.

“Your question reveals a basic misunderstanding of how costs are imposed.” Warren responded.

“Your answer reveals a basic misunderstanding of how to get an evasive witness to answer the question,” Grant tweeted back.

Warren said he’d be “happy to meet to explain how our system criminalizes poverty & imposes excessive fines on ppl who can least afford it, and that Floridians didn’t intend to restore rights only to ppl who can buy them back,” Warren wrote. “Reps learning public policy in 280 characters is prolly not what Founding Fathers envisioned.”

Grant said he withdrew from the exchange when it “became abundantly clear that Mr. Warren is more with concerned with politics than upholding the rule of law.”

Spano votes against extending VAWA

Like most other Republicans in the U.S. House, Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, voted against a bill extending the Violence Against Women Act last week.

But the day before he cast that vote, Spano sent out a news release saying he favors extending the act.

The difference: Spano said he supported H.R. 1741, sponsored by Republicans, and didn’t mention the Democratic-sponsored H.R. 1585, the bill he voted against the next day. It passed on a near-party line vote, 263-158. GOP Reps. Vern Buchanan and Gus Bilirakis also voted no, and Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist voted yes.

A number of Republicans, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, objected to a provision in the bill expanding restrictions on buying and owning firearms to people convicted of stalking, harassing or assaulting dating partners as well as family members — closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” that advocates say has resulted in domestic violence deaths.

Others said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought the bill to the floor prematurely to force Republicans to take an unpopular stance by voting against it.

A statement from Spano’s spokesman said he “strongly supports providing the necessary resources for victims of these horrific crimes” and is “deeply disappointed that Speaker Pelosi chose to politicize this sensitive topic.” It said Spano still hopes for passage of H.R. 1741.

But advocates say that bill is flawed.

Rachel Graber of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence said H.R. 1741 not only doesn’t close the “boyfriend loophole,” but also fails to extend 9 of the 29 grant programs under VAWA and cuts authorization for the others in half — possibly because of drafting errors.

H.R. 1585 is considered unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled Senate.

Dingfelder leads in contributions

Heading into the April 23 City Council runoff election, citywide District 3 candidate John Dingfelder has raised more money than any other council candidate, $166,826, with about another $10,000 he expects to show on a campaign finance report due Friday, April 12.

That includes $50,000 of his own money. Without that, he’d still be in second place behind Bill Carlson, who was elected in the first round.

Dingfelder narrowly missed a first-round win with 49 percent in a four-way race. He faces Stephen Lytle — who’s raised $68,271 — in the runoff.

Dingfelder said he’s proud of his large number of small contributions — 546 contributions in all, an average of $214 not counting his own money — and that the vast majority comes from local sources.

He also lists 35 maximum $1,000 contributions, including about a dozen from real estate development interests.

He has returned one $1,000 contribution, from the controversial private prison corporation GEO.

Dingfelder said the company gave him the contribution after he helped them look for a Tampa site for a federal halfway house, which he considered a laudable project, and didn’t know until his opponent brought it up that the company is involved in detaining immigrant children.

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