5 Things That Happened While You Were Out: August 13, 2020

It’s Thursday, CivMixers! Anyone else over this humidity?

Anyway, Thursday = running around like a chicken with my head cut off, so let’s get right down to it, shall we?

1) Thursday also means a U.S. Supreme Court decision update – when available. Today, the justices a petition filed by the Republican Party that sought to block Rhode Island’s decision to allow state residents to vote by mail in two upcoming elections without filling the ballot out in front of either two witnesses or notaries.

That requirement was suspended for the June primary to make voting during the pandemic easier and to let more people vote without actually showing up in person at the polls. This was the first time the Supreme Court justices had agreed to a pandemic-related voter relief effort, and they explained in a short, unsigned order that state officials had already agreed to relax the rules, and the GOP basically had no standing on which to object.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas all dissented.

Last month the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, and three individual voters – all with high-risk medical issues leading to vulnerability if infected with COVID-19 – filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Rhode Island witness requirement. The ACLU praised court’s decision today.

Last week a Boston-based First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals refused to issue the Republicans a requested stay, saying that expecting people to either go to cast a ballot or have witnesses present during a global pandemic would discourage voter participation.

The three-judge panel acknowledged that many voters who wanted to vote and were also unwilling or unable to risk infection by reporting in-person to polls could and would likely find a way to make the voting work within the scope of the witness requirement. Still, the panel decided that was an unnecessary and substantial burden to inflict on the general voting public.

The Republican Party argued this would simply add more confusion to the election process. Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, a Democrat, disagreed and praising the decision, saying that fear of sickness should not deprive anyone of their right to be a part of the small-d democratic process.

The state will begin sending out any requested ballots for the primary on Sept. 8, as of today.

2) A little after 3 p.m. yesterday, two men got into a disagreement in a Bronx apartment building. The dispute got physical, and 18-year-old Winston Ortiz received three stab wounds before an accelerant was poured on him and he was set on fire. He was taken to the Harlem Hospital and died as a result of his injuries while there.

Today, 22-year-old Adones Betances was arrested and charged with Ortiz’s murder. He has been charged with both murder and manslaughter.

Winston’s Aunt Victoria Ortiz said the last time she saw his nephew was this past Saturday. He had come to visit her at her home in Virginia Beach. He was a good kid, she said, and while he visited he played with his cousins and cuddled her dog.

Ortiz said the family is devastated by the news. She confirmed that Ortiz was a New Yorker, born and raised, and characterized him as a good boy who went to church regularly. She expressed particular concern for his two younger brothers – 11 and 17 – who will have to continue living on without him.

Ortiz is not sure why Winston was in that particular apartment building or what he was doing there. She thanked the person she was told heard her nephew’s screams and came to his aid, extinguishing the fire with water and staying with him while awaiting EMA. She said she’s grateful to know he was not alone at the end.

3) The lawsuit filed by Cynthia Page, an Arizona woman, against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus travel quarantine order has been dismissed by Federal U.S. District Court Judge David N. Hurd.

According to Hurd, there was a ruling in a similar 1905 case from SCOTUS that allows the quarantine requirement. This is because the state has a “compelling interest” for fighting the virus and stopping the spread, and the travel quarantine order, the judge deterined, is the “most viable and least restrictive way to do that.”

Paige maintained that her constitutional rights had been violated by the order as it prevented her from traveling into the state, specifically to Brooklyn, to help a friend pack and move.

According to Hurd, in Jacobsen vs. Massachusetts in 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Massachusetts when a Cambridge Pastor Henning Jacobson, who was fined for refusing a smallpox vaccine during the smallpox pandemic, sued the state.

This case has been the gold standard of courts ever since in any issues regarding the rights of government agencies and restrictions they impose during public health crises. Specifically, SCOTUS ruled that in such instances, the state’s interest in protecting the public during outweighs individual liberties.

Hurd said that until the high court itself revisits a case similar to Jacobsen and changes the scope of it, any such challenges will come up against this block every time.

As of now, New York has more than 30 states and territories on its list: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Virgin Islands, and Wisconsin.

4) Within the past two weeks, Montgomery County’s Department of Public Health has had four separate reports of bats in homes.

This has spurred them to remind people to take precautions to avoid bats coming into their homes. Suzzane Stegich, a health worker in the county, tells people that bats are more active in the summertime. They can find their way inside small openings everywhere around a home.

The main concern with bats entering inhabited homes is exposure to the deadly rabies virus. So far, none of the bat reports have to lead to any potential exposures, but it is a danger that should be remembered and taken seriously.

Stegich reminds people that if you are a heavy sleeper or have children who sleep in a room far from yours and discover a bat in your home, that is going to count as a possible exposure. The other real concern is animals. The county has three upcoming free clinics for residents.

  • September 12 from 9 – 11 a.m. at the St. Johnsville Town Barn
  • October 10 from 9 a.m. to Noon in Minaville at the Florida Town Highway Dept.
  • November 7 from 9 a.m. to Noon in Fonda at the Mohawk Town Barn

5) Around 1 p.m. today, there was a fatal crash in Schoharie, according to the New York State Police. On State Route 145 near the Keyser Road intersection, a car crashed into an NYS DOT vehicle.

Both the driver of the vehicle and passenger died.

As the investigation continues, the road remains closed.

Stay steady, stay strong, stay safe.

Stay woke.

 

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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