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A Florida state senator on Tuesday filed a bill seeking to include members of the press as a protected group in existing hate crime laws in the state in response to recent threats and attacks against journalists.

State Sen. Janet Cruz (D) announced the proposed measure in a press release, writing that the legislation will allow for heightened penalties for threats and violence against members of the media, treating them as a protected class alongside race, religion and sexual orientation.

 

“It is a dark reality that members of the press in our country are facing a heightened risk of violent attacks as a result of irresponsible leadership throughout our country,” the press release stated. 

Cruz said in a statement along with the release, “A free press, provided to us in the First Amendment, is vital for a strong democracy and society.” 

“What sort of indictment is it on us if we fail to protect those that pursue no other goal but the interest of the public good?” the senator added. 

Cruz noted in the release that during the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, journalists and other members of the press were “surrounded, intimidated, their equipment destroyed, and their lives threatened,” noting specifically the words, “Murder the Media,” that were scratched into one of the Capitol doors during the mob attack. 

Cruz explained that the legislation will protect all members of the media, including “photojournalists and those operating equipment to facilitate the delivery of news or media.”

“This is about staying true to our nation’s most sacred values. Preserving the relationship of mutual trust with an essential institution, like a free press, is instrumental to the success of our democracy,” added Cruz, who also tweeted Tuesday that everyone should “be filled with a deep sense of sadness that this legislation is even necessary.” 

We should all be filled with a deep sense of sadness that this legislation is even necessary, but it is imperative that we protect members of the press https://t.co/bck5Gg9ZGQ

— Janet Cruz (@SenJanetCruz) February 23, 2021

Despite praise from some on social media, others, including some Florida journalists, criticized the move, arguing that a person’s chosen profession should not be viewed by law in the same way as categories like race, gender or sexual orientation. 

We don't need this. If you want to help journalists, expand public records laws. https://t.co/8CRDMIXRti

— Desiree Stennett (@Desi_Stennett) February 23, 2021

Thanks but no thanks.

It's a choice to be a journalist. You can't choose your gender, race or sexual orientation. https://t.co/z3lv5AteXf

— David Harris (@DavidHarrisOS) February 23, 2021

Several firsthand accounts from the Capitol riots showed how journalists were among those targeted in the attacks. In one incident captured on video, Associated Press photographer John Minchillo was shoved, dragged and yelled at by some in the mob. 

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker recorded 384 assaults on journalists in 2020, with 15 already assaulted in 2021. 

Arrests of journalists in the U.S. were up 1,200 percent in 2020, with more reporters getting arrested in that year than during all of 2017-2019, according to an analysis from the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

The increased threats and attacks against journalists come after former President TrumpDonald TrumpFauci: U.S. political divide over masks led to half a million COVID-19 deaths Georgia bishop says state GOP's elections bill is an 'attempt to suppress the Black vote' Trump closer to legal jeopardy after court ruling on tax returns MORE in the lead up to and during his administration repeatedly attacked the press, claiming news organizations reported “fake news” and that they were the “enemy of the people.”

Tags Donald Trump Florida Hate crimes Freedom of the press legal protections Gender Sexual orientation Freedom of religion

News Source: thehill.com

Tags: that the legislation florida state senator journalists as a protected press release a free press a free press a hate crime the capitol the release our country

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Maine: Senator Pushes for Restaurant Help, New Clinic Coming

By PATRICK WHITTLE, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine's independent senator is taking another shot at promoting a $120 billion revitalization fund to help restaurants that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sen. Angus King also supported the proposal when it was first proposed last year. It would set up the fund to support independent restaurants and small franchises that are under tremendous financial pressure because of the pandemic, King said Monday.

King said the proposal is especially important for the economy in Maine, which is dependent on tourism dollars.

“Maine’s restaurants are central parts of our economy and our communities; they create jobs, drive tourism, and provide gathering places that add to the character of our hometowns – on top of cooking up delicious meals for all of us," King said.

Nationwide, restaurants wrapped up 2020 with losses of more than $240 billion, King said. The senator said they also lost 2.5 million jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels, and more than one out of six is closed permanently or for an extended period.

Under the proposal, restaurant owners could apply for grants of up to $10 million to cover expenses retroactively. King said the money could be used for costs such as payrolls, benefits, mortgages, supplies and food, among others.

In other pandemic news in Maine:

THE NUMBERS

The positivity rate is trending downward in Maine and elsewhere in New England. Officials have said that's an encouraging sign since the pace of vaccination is also increasing.

The latest average positivity rate in Maine is 1.47%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Maine the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test specimens using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The 7-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 2.23% on Feb. 14 to 1.47% on Feb. 28.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 44,000 positive cases of the virus and 703 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

___

NEW CLINIC

A new coronavirus vaccine in the state's largest city is set to come online on Tuesday.

Northern Light Mercy Hospital is working with the city and state to launch the clinic at Portland Expo in Portland.

The Expo is one of the oldest performance venues in New England and is located not far from Portland's downtown.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tags: Maine, Associated Press

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