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US panel to focus on Native American missing, slain cases

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Nearly 40 law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, social workers and survivors of violence have been named to a federal commission tasked with helping improve how the government addresses a decades-long crisis of missing and murdered Native Americans and Alaska Natives, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Thursday.

The committee’s creation means that for the first time, the voices guiding the Interior and Justice departments in the effort will include people most affected by the epidemic, said Haaland, the first Native American to lead a cabinet department.

She said the panel includes members with diverse experiences and backgrounds, representing communities from Alaska and Washington to Arizona, Oklahoma and Michigan. It will craft recommendations on how the government can better tackle a disproportionately high number of unsolved cases in which Native Americans and Alaska Natives have disappeared or been killed.

“It will take a focused effort — and time — to unravel the many threads that contribute to the alarming rates of these cases,” Haaland said during a virtual event.

Some members of Congress have expressed concern that work to address the crisis as required under the law isn’t on track. In the case of appointing members to the commission, federal officials are more than a year behind schedule.

The Not Invisible Act, signed into law in October 2020, required that the commission be named by February 2021 and that findings be made public last month.

Another law signed around the same time directed the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to find ways to increase cooperation among law enforcement agencies, provide tribes resources and address data collection. Savanna’s Act was named for 22-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who went missing while pregnant in 2017 before her body was found in a North Dakota River.

U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who faces a tough reelection campaign; Jon Tester of Montana; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the vice-chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, outlined their concerns in a letter earlier this week.

“Both of these laws outlined specific time frames and deadlines for implementation; however, it is unclear which provisions have been undertaken, and it appears that almost every deadline has been missed,” the lawmakers wrote.

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Thursday the naming of the commission marks a major milestone that follows ongoing work by a separate steering committee to marshal more federal resources to address the problem.

She also announced the creation of a new position within the executive office of U.S. attorneys that will be responsible for working with victims and families to ensure they have a voice while navigating the criminal justice system.

Federal officials also plugged work being done by the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which now has 17 offices across the country that have at least one agent dedicated to solving casing involving missing or slain Native Americans.

As for the 37-member commission, its mission includes tracking and reporting data on missing-person, homicide and human trafficking cases and increasing information sharing with tribal governments on violent crimes investigations and other prosecutions on Indian lands.

The commission is expected to hold hearings and gather testimony before making recommendations to the Interior and Justice departments to improve coordination among agencies and to establish best practices for state, tribal and federal law enforcement. The panel also is tasked with boosting resources for survivors and victims’ families.

Meanwhile, some communities already have created their own response plans to address the problem. In New Mexico, officials on Thursday rolled out the state’s plan, highlighting goals that include building more support services for survivors and families, doing more outreach on education and prevention and leveraging resources for tribal judicial systems.

Fawn Sharp, president of the tribal advocacy group National Congress of American Indians, said during Thursday’s virtual event that although funding for law enforcement in Indian Country has increased in recent years, it doesn’t come close to meeting the needs.

She pointed to research showing that failure to provide funding undermined the ability to provide adequate public safety in tribal communities.

“Having the authority to hold perpetrators accountable is an important first step, but tribal nations cannot follow through to hold bad actors accountable without adequate and consistent funding for tribal justice systems,” she said.

Other advocates said they were hopeful the federal commission’s recommendations will cover the need for safe housing for victims of domestic violence and other social services and health care that could help prevent violence.

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Trump impeachment leader Schiff joins California Senate race

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who rose to national prominence as the lead prosecutor in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, said Thursday he is running for the Senate seat held by long-serving Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

The 2024 race is quickly emerging as a marquee Senate contest, even though the 89-year-old Feinstein, the oldest member of Congress, has yet to announce if she will seek another term, though her retirement is widely expected. Schiff is jumping in two weeks after Rep. Katie Porter became the first candidate to declare her campaign for the safe Democratic seat.

Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, made clear he intends to anchor his candidacy to his role as Trump’s chief antagonist in Congress. In his campaign kickoff video, he said the “biggest job of his life” was serving as impeachment manager, and he promised to continue to be a “fighter” for democracy.

“If our democracy isn’t delivering for Americans, they’ll look for alternatives, like a dangerous demagogue who promises that he alone can fix it,” Schiff said of Trump, who has announced his 2024 campaign for the presidency.

Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor who joined the Senate in 1992, told reporters in Washington this week that she will make a decision about 2024 in the “next couple of months.”

The jockeying for the seat has created a politically awkward dynamic for Feinstein, who has broken gender barriers throughout her decadeslong career in local and national politics. In recent years, questions have arisen about her cognitive health and memory, though she has defended her effectiveness in representing a state that is home to nearly 40 million people.

Schiff, 62, said in an interview Thursday that he had spoken to Feinstein a day earlier to inform her about his plans.

“I want to make sure that everything I did was respectful of her and that I did so with her knowledge and her blessing,” Schiff told The Associated Press.

Asked if he was aware of the senator’s plans, Schiff said, “I don’t want to presume to speak for Sen. Feinstein, and I think she’s earned the right to announce her decision when she’s ready to make that announcement.”

Schiff was first elected to Congress in 2000 and represents parts of Hollywood. He has been a frequent target of conservatives — Trump in particular — since the then-GOP-led House Intelligence Committee he served on started investigating Trump’s ties to Russia in the 2016 election. Schiff appeared frequently on television to question Trump’s actions.

That criticism intensified when Democrats took the House majority in early 2019 and he became the committee chair, and it reached a full-on roar with his role in the impeachment investigation of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Trump was impeached in December 2019 on charges he abused the power of the presidency to investigate rival Joe Biden and obstructed Congress’ investigation.

In an impassioned plea to the Senate in early 2020, Schiff urged Trump’s removal from office and framed the choice in moral terms. “If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost,” he said at the time.

“You know you can’t trust this president do what’s right for this country,” Schiff said. “You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months, he’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters.”

The Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump of both charges. In 2021, he became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice, this time for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after he lost the 2020 election. He was again acquitted by the Senate.

Republicans are still angry about Schiff’s starring role at the impeachment trial, with new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy accusing him of using his leadership position to “lie to the American public again and again.” McCarthy, R-Calif., said this week that he intended to block Schiff from continuing his service on the House Intelligence Committee.

With the centrist Feinstein in the twilight of her career, the race in the heavily Democratic state already is shaping up as a showcase for an ambitious, younger generation on the party’s left wing.

Both Schiff and Porter are nationally recognized — Schiff through his leading impeachment role and Porter, a favorite of the party’s progressive wing, through her tough questioning of CEOs and other witnesses at congressional hearings. Each is also a formidable small-dollar fundraiser.

Neither has run statewide before, and each would face the challenge of becoming better known beyond their Southern California districts. Democrats are expected to dominate the contest — a Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in California since 2006, and the past two Senate elections had only Democrats on the November ballot.

The field is expected to grow, with other possible contenders including Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Asked how he would stand out in what is expected to be a crowded field, Schiff said he would emphasize his central role of national struggles over democracy and the economy.

“I think that record of leadership, that record of staunch defense of our democracy, and the way that I’ve championed an economy that works for everyone, I think are a powerful record to run on,” he said.

In his announcement video, Schiff mixed shots of his family and highlights from his courtroom work with video from the impeachment proceedings and clips of Trump and other Republicans.

He warns that the threat of extremism is not over.

“Today’s Republican Party is gutting the middle class, threatening our democracy” Schiff says. “They aren’t going to stop. We have to stop them.”

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Florida House Democrats React to House Bill 1 Passing its First Committee

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In response to the committee vote referring House Bill 1 to its next House committee, Florida House Democrats provided the following statements.

“While I am disappointed my third amendment was not accepted to give Florida’s families the accountability and transparency they deserve so they make the right choice for their children, we will continue working with our Republican counterparts to ensure no student gets left behind,” said Choice and Innovation Subcommittee Democratic Ranking Member Representative Susan L. Valdés (D-Tampa).

“Today’s committee hearing hosted a robust discussion about policy and finance, but we need to realize that is ultimately about the children,” said Representative Kevin Chambliss (D-Homestead). “Each child is different and unique, especially those with disabilities. Every child deserves quality education, and I sincerely hope we can work together to put our children before the politics of the bill.”

“Today’s vote is disappointing. While there is definitely room for innovation in the public-school system, the negative fiscal impact on public schools will be felt on the back of public school students,” said Representative Katherine Waldron (D-Wellington).

This morning’s Choice and Innovation Subcommittee hearing can be replayed any time via The Florida Channel’s archive.

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Randy Fine Announces Endorsement of Brevard State Rep. Chase Tramont

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Melbourne Beach, Fla. – Today, State Representative Randy Fine (R-Melbourne Beach)
announced the endorsement of Brevard County State Representative Chase Tramont in Fine’s
bid for the open State Senate District 19 seat.

“For many years, I have had the privilege of knowing Representative Fine and observing his
service in the Florida House,” said Tramont. “I can personally vouch for his tenacious spirit.
When it comes to fighting for our families, he’s left it all on the field. I have no doubt he will
do the same in the Florida Senate.”

Representative Tramont joins fellow Brevard County Representative and former Senator Thad
Altman in endorsing Fine, along with former Senate President from Brevard Mike Haridopolos
and Republican Party of Florida Chairman and Senator Joe Gruters. Fine’s political committee,
Friends of Randy Fine, has almost $500,000 on hand.

“Representative Tramont has been a fantastic addition to the Brevard Delegation,” said Fine.
“Many legislators talk about fighting for the most vulnerable among us; Representative Tramont
is an inspiration in living that fight every day. I am so excited to work with him this term in the
House, and moving forward, in the Senate.”

Representative Fine currently serves as the Chairman of the House Health & Human Services
Committee, where he oversees all aspects of health care and welfare reform in Florida.

Previously, he served as Chairman of the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, where
he sponsored the largest School Choice expansion in American history and as Chairman of the
House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where he redesigned the process of
capital funding for state universities. He also served as the Chairman of the House Select
Committee on Gaming. In his time in the legislature, Fine has passed over two dozen pieces of
legislation, including the bill holding Disney accountable for its wokeists attacks on Florida’s
parents.

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