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Archive for November, 2012

Scott leading trade mission to Colombia

Thursday, November 29th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott is set to lead a 200-person trade mission this weekend to Colombia, Florida’s second-largest trading partner.

The mission, organized by Enterprise Florida with participants from 116 companies, is Scott’s seventh as governor. The entourage is scheduled to leave Sunday and be in Colombia into Wednesday.

These missions help us attract new industries and businesses to Florida and further cement our standing as one of the nation’s top trading states,” Scott said. “I look forward to visiting Colombia and with the recent ratification of the Free Trade Agreements.”

Including $9 billion in trade between Florida and Colombia, 37 percent of U.S. exports to the country flow through the state, officials said. Scott’s earlier missions went to Panama, Canada, Brazil, Israel, Great Britain and Spain.

Report says Palm Beach and other counties setting pace for ethics reform

Thursday, November 29th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Palm Beach and other counties looking to shed a dark history of corruption are setting a pace for reform that could be modeled by other governments and state officials, advocacy organizations said Thursday.

Integrity Florida and the Leroy Collins Institute released a report which showed a majority of Florida’s 45 counties surveyed require ethics training for elected officials, regulate contracting practices, and restrict gifts from lobbyists to officials. Most also have designated a county point person for ethics issues, the report found.

“In many of these instances, these reforms did follow corruption,” said Carol Weissert, director of the Collins Institute. “But I think what we’re seeing counties where they’re not having corruption and they’re still trying to make these changes.”

Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, said some county officials acknowledge the stricter oversight measures enacted locally were prompted by an absence of tough state ethics laws.

“City and county governments can go further than the state, but they can’t be weaker than what the state requires,” Krassner said.

He said the survey of local standards can be a guide for Florida’s new legislative leaders, who have spoken of toughening standards state officials must meet. Both House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, have created new ethics committees expected to propose measures for next year’s Legislature.

The survey listed Palm Beach County as a model for many. The county created its own ethics commission in 2010, enacted a tougher ethics code a year later and hired an inspector general empowered to look for fraud and abuse in the county.

Palm Beach’s reforms were hard earned. The county was branded the “Capital of Florida Corruption,” in 2009 by Time magazine and saw four county commissioners convicted of corruption charges and a pair of West Palm Beach city commissioners sent to prison for felonies over a five-year period.


Gaetz completes Senate committee assignments

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has finalized the make-up of his chamber for the next two years, tapping five Democrats to head committees and appointing Sen. Joe Negron as the head of a select committee on the federal health care law. Negron, R-Stuart, is also chairman of the Senate’s budget committee.

Some of the key positions include two new committees set up by Gaetz:

Gaming Committee: Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples; Vice Chairwoman Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach.
Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart; Vice Chairwoman Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

Other high-profile committee assignments:
Judiciary Committee: Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Vice Chairman Darren Soto, D-Orlando.
Budget subcommittees:
Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations: Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island; Vice Chairwoman Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.
Education Appropriations: Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton ; Vice Chairman Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.
Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development: Chairman Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando; Vice Chairwoman Gwen Margolis, D-Miami.
Health and Human Services Appropriations: Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; Vice Chairwoman Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

Several freshmen senators, who also served in the state House, will also serve as chairmen.

Gaetz also boosted Democrats’ clout in the chamber, appointing five Dems to head committees compared to just two last year. And nearly every committee is co-chaired by a Democrat. Democrats picked up two Senate seats this year, breaking the GOP’s supermajority hold and winding up with a 26-14 split.

Gaetz’s bipartisan approach earned kudos from Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

“I am grateful to Senate President Gaetz for listening to the interests and desires of my Caucus members to serve on various Senate Committees. By appointing them as Chairs of five of them, President Gaetz underscored his commitment to bipartisan cooperation for the good of the people of Florida. And I applaud him for his actions,” Smith wrote in a press release.

Read Gaetz’s memo after the jump.

Fiscal cliff: Republican Rooney willing to budge on taxes if Democrats move on spending

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 by George Bennett


U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, says he’s willing to consider raising revenue by eliminating some tax deductions and loopholes if Democrats agree to savings from entitlement spending.

That’s a pretty big “if” for Rooney. So far, he says he hasn’t seen evidence that Democrats are willing to commit to serious spending cuts.

Rooney’s position is in line with House Speaker John Boehner, who has suggested raising tax revenue via the loophole route while opposing an increase in income tax rates as favored by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

Rooney is one of 238 House members and 41 Senators (all but three of them Republicans) who signed Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist‘s pledge not to raise taxes. Signers promised not only to oppose tax rate increases but to “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

Asked if he considers raising revenue through tightening loopholes a violation of the Norquist pledge, Rooney said, “I don’t think that it is….Quite frankly, I don’t care. The bottom line is that our country is in trouble.”


Florida Congressional Democrats seek federal probe of voting law

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida’s Democratic U.S. House members, including Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have asked the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to hold a hearing regarding Florida’s voting law that shrunk the number of early voting days, required more voters to cast provisional ballots and was intended to curb voter registration by outside groups.

The Democratic delegation asked for the hearing based on a report in The Palm Beach Post on Sunday that detailed how Republican Party of Florida consultants and staff sought to alter Florida’s early voting laws in the aftermath of the 2008 election to curb Democratic turnout.

“In light of these allegations, we are extremely concerned over the integrity of this law and the justification for its implementation,” U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson and Wasserman Schultz wrote to U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Chairman Martin Castro in a letter sent today. “As you know, trust in our democracy is what holds our country together. Voters must be able to trust that their elected officials are acting in their best interest.”

The commission held hearings in Florida in the aftermath of the protracted 2000 election and made numerous recommendations based on its findings, many of which were included in the Help America Vote Act passed by Congress in 2002.

New chapter for Dorworth is titled “Lobbyist”

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Former Rep. Chris Dorworth, a Lake Mary Republican in line to become a future House Speaker until his upset defeat on Election Day, has reemerged as a lobbyist.

Ballard Partners, the major lobbying firm led by Republican fund-raiser Brian Ballard, announced Tuesday it has hired the three-term lawmaker to run its Orlando office. Florida law bars former legislators from lobbying their ex-colleagues for two years after leaving office, but Dorworth is eligible to work the governor’s office, Cabinet and state agencies.

““Having the opportunity to join Florida’s leading public affairs firm is an incredible beginning to the next chapter in my career,” Dorworth said. “I look forward to contributing to the already exceptional team at Ballard Partners and building a strong, first
class public affairs presence in Central Florida.”

Dorworth lost by a 146-vote margin to Democrat Mike Clelland. Dorworth, who was set to take the top job in the House in 2014, became the first speaker-designate to lose re-election since Democrat Sam Bell in 1988.


Gaetz taps Senate leadership team

Monday, November 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Don Gaetz announced his top lieutenants for the next two legislative session, tapping Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, as Majority Leader and picking Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, as budget chief, a position he also held in the Florida House.

And in a possible nod to President Lincoln, who staffed his Cabinet with one-time adversaries, Gaetz named Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, as chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. Gaetz has made ethics reforms one of his top priorities and lawmakers are being pressured to address a contentious elections overhaul passed last year (HB 1355) that some blame for long lines and other problems during this year ‘s presidential election. Latvala was in a leadership battle against Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, earlier this year. Gardiner is expected to take over the Senate in two years but whether his successor will be Latvala or Negron (or someone else) remains undecided.

As expected, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, will keep his post as head of the powerful Rules Committee. Thrasher is a former House speaker and also served as chairman of the state GOP.

Returning Sen. Tom Lee, R- Brandon, will be Deputy Majority Leader and Whip, also not a surprise since Lee is a former Senate president.

Negron served as chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee for the past two years and has represented Gaetz in talks with the Obama administration recently over how to handle the federally-mandated health care exchanges.

Gaetz is also setting up a special committee to deal with the health care law but hasn’t yet named its chairman.

Scott issues $10,000 challenge to state colleges

Monday, November 26th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott, who has been trying to rein-in the cost of higher education in Florida, fired off a challenge Monday to state college leaders — urging they create bachelor’s degree programs costing no more than $10,000.

Such degrees at Florida state colleges — formerly known as community colleges — currently average $13,264, said Randy Hanna, chancellor of the Florida College System.

“Today, what I’m doing is saying to our state colleges, ‘Can you come up with $10,000-degrees, where people can get great jobs…so you could live your version of the American dream,’” Scott told a Tampa television station, before announcing his proposal in an appearance at St. Petersburg College.

Most of Scott’s earlier questioning of higher education costs have been directed at the State University System, where the latest round of tuition increases of from 9 percent to 15 percent, have boosted the average annual rate to $6,232 this fall — 41st highest in the nation.

But the State College System now serves almost 900,000 students, with enrollment rising with the slow economy.

Hanna said the “logistics still have to be worked out,” on the governor’s challenge. But Hanna said he expected individual colleges to embrace the idea of offering at least one popular degree program at the lower rate that is aimed at getting students out into the local work force.

Murphy on MSNBC: I’m fiscally more conservative than Obama but willing to compromise on taxes

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 by Andrew Abramson

Fresh off his certification for the District 18 congressional seat, Patrick Murphy appeared on MSNBC’s The Ed Show this evening — but not before host Ed Schultz gave a send-off to Allen West, congratulating West for conceding “after two weeks of kicking and screaming.”

Schultz told Murphy “you are exactly what the Republicans love to put up in front of a crowd. You’re a successful businessman, you understand small business. I’ve done some research on your background.”

Schultz then asked Murphy if he won because of West’s rhetoric.

“It started off with his rhetoric,” Murphy said. “That offended a lot of Republicans. We’d get phone calls from Republicans every day saying ‘Patrick, look, we’re tired of the Tea Party, we’re tired of Allen West. We want somebody with your background as a CPA, as a small business owner, representing us. Part of my campaign was about showing the difference between Allen West and myself but also talking about what I want to do moving forward and my background and why I thought I was the better candidate moving this country forward.”

Schultz said that while Obama wants to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year, Murphy has said he favors a tax hike only for those making $1 million or more. Schultz asked Murphy if he would agree to a tax hike on those making $250,000 and higher if Obama asked for his vote.

“Being a CPA I’ve studied the tax code and unfortunately it’s riddled with loopholes and deductions,” Murphy said. “If we’re going to be serious about making sure we don’t fall off this fiscal cliff so that we do have economic stability going forward, we’re going to have to really look at our tax code from scratch. I said the $1 million because I believe there are so many businesses out there that want to keep that money invested in their companies so that’s why I have the line at $1 million. If we’re going to be serious the first thing I said is that I want to sit down with the Republicans and find compromise to ensure we move this country forward.

“Of course I don’t want to raise taxes on the middle class. But I am fiscally more conservative than the president so that’s where I stand. I’m not saying I wouldn’t compromise because there’s a bigger picture at hand here. That’s where I drew the line but we’ve got to do what’s best for all Americans.”

New House, Senate leaders take over

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, officially took the gavels in their respective chambers this morning, launching their two-year terms as presiding officers and welcoming a slew of newly elected lawmakers.

Weatherford’s ceremony had the added bonus of being led by former House Speaker Allan Bense, Weatherford’s father-in-law.

Both Weatherford and Gaetz gave speeches outlining their plans for the next two years.

Fifteen of the 40 senators are new to the chamber. Several of them – including Palm Beach County Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington – previously served in the state House.

Gaetz praised Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, and emphasized that the two parties have to work together, unlike lawmakers in Washington.

“You want to know who lost the 2012 election. Congress. Congress, both parties, has an approval rating of 11 percent. Muammar Gaddafi had an approval rating of 14 percent and his people killed him,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz said he and Weatherford agreed to make ethics reform a top priority.

“In my medium-sized north Florida county, a commissioner was just removed for official misconduct, the tourism director committed suicide after he stole bed tax and BP money, the Speaker of the House was forced to resign, the tax collector was run out of office, our college president was fired and our sheriff is in federal prison. That’s just my county,” said Gaetz, who lives in Okaloosa County.

And Gaetz also pledged to do something about the state’s prolonged election, certified this morning by Gov. Rick Scott and two other members of the Election Canvassing Commission, saying Florida is not a “third world country.”

“Floridians should never again have to stand in lines for six and seven hours to vote. Floridians should never again have to wonder if their ballots were miscoded or misprinted or miscounted. Floridians shouldn’t be embarrassed that while most counties in our state run flawless elections, some counties keep running flawed elections,” Gaetz said. “This isn’t a third world country. America shouldn’t have to wait for five days after the polls close to find out how Florida voted.”

State certifies election with unofficial results from West-Murphy race

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Two weeks after the Nov. 6 election, Florida’s 2012 results are now official.

Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi this morning certified with special attention to St. Lucie County’s prolonged recount the nationally-watched U.S. House District 18 contest between tea party icon U.S. Rep. Allen West and newly-elected U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

After lawsuits and recounts, West conceded this morning.

Scott and the two Cabinet members, acting as the state Election Canvassing Commission, were about to certify the results of the presidential, statewide and multi-county races as well as a few special elections, Secretary of State Ken Detzner told them.

“However, I bring to your attention that the St. Lucie County official returns were not received by the statutory deadline of noon, Nov. 18,” Detzner said. Florida law mandates that if a county’s returns are not received by the Department of State by the deadline, “the date filed returns shall be ignored and the results on file at that shall be certified by the department,” Detzner said.

“Therefore, the results before you reflect the unofficial returns filed from St. Lucie County at noon, Nov. 18,” he went on.

But a final recount, which ended in St. Lucie County on Sunday, did not change the results or give West enough of an edge to trigger an automatic recount, Detzner noted.

Murphy has led by less than 1 percent since election night. Final results Sunday from Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties gave the Democrat a lead over West of 1,904 votes or 0.58 percent.

“If St. Lucie County had timely submitted its retabulated returns, those returns would not have affected the ultimate outcome of any race and would not have placed any race within the margin of a recount,” he said.

Gov. Rick Scott, whose tea party support helped boost him to victory two years ago, said he was confident that Murphy is the winner.

“That’s what all the numbers show,” Scott said. Having to certify the unofficial results is disappointing, Scott said, “but it didn’t impact the election.”

Rep. Allen West concedes House race to Patrick Murphy

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 by George Bennett

UPDATED with response from Murphy

Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West announced this morning that he won’t challenge Democrat Patrick Murphy’s narrow victory in their nationally watched battle for the Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional District 18 seat.

“While many questions remain unanswered, today I am announcing that I will take no further action to contest the outcome of this election,” West said in a statement released early this morning to The Palm Beach Post.

West later made his concession Fox-official by appearing briefly on Fox & Friends at about 6:15 a.m.

Murphy has led by less than 1 percent since election night. Final results Sunday from Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties gave the Democrat a lead over West of 1,904 votes or 0.58 percent.

Until now, West has refused to concede, citing admitted errors by St. Lucie County in its initial tallying of more than 37,000 ballots from early voting. West finally succeeded in getting the county to conduct a full retabulation of its early ballots, but the recount failed to reduce Murphy’s margin to the 0.5 percent or closer that would push the race into a full recount of the entire district.

“While there are certainly still inaccuracies in the results and the actions of the St. Lucie County and Palm Beach County Supervisors of Elections rightly raise questions in my mind and for many voters, after much analysis and (Sunday’s) recount in St. Lucie County, our legal team does not believe there are enough over-counted, under-counted or fraudulent votes to change the outcome of the election,” West’s statement said.


House Dems select new leaders, too

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Rep. Perry Thurston officially took over as House Democratic Leader for the next two years in a ceremony in the Old Capitol, finalizing the minority caucus’s leadership switch before tomorrow’s organizational session.

Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, welcomed 24 new state representatives to the 44-member caucus, a five-seat gain in part due to newly-drawn legislative districts.

“I like to refer to us as…the heart and soul of the legislature,” Thurston said.

Echoing President Obama’s emphasis on the middle-class, Thurston said the outnumbered Democrats will continue as “the voice of opposition” but with new-found strength since breaking the GOP supermajority stronghold in the House as well as the Senate. If Democrats hold together, they would be able to block procedures or legislation that require a two-thirds vote, including proposed constitutional amendments.

Thurston said Democrats should take a lesson from the GOP to make their numbers even stronger.

“The way the other side did it, they did it by sticking together,” he said. “We’re going to be here and we’re going to be ready to fight.”

Speaking of the November election, Thurston said that Democrats predicted that a sweeping election law (HB 1355) passed last year would create problems.

“We understood it was going to be disastrous,” Thurston said. “That disastrous vote, with people standing in line eight, nine, ten hours, we argued against that. And we’re going to continue to advocate against issues that are going to affect our state.”

Thurston and his counterpart Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith are both black lawyers from Fort Lauderdale. Smith also served as the head of the House Democrats in 2005 and 2006.

Smith said the site of the ceremony, typically a brief event held on the House and Senate floors, was significant.

“We both decided to have our events here in the Old Capitol, a place that wouldn’t welcome us a few years ago. But now we’re both taking our leadership positions tonight in this building,” Smith said.

The House Dems also selected Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, as the leader pro tempore, and named other representatives to leadership positions, including Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, who is the caucus’s policy lead.

Senate Dems elect new leaders

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida Senate Democrats, up by two after November’s elections, elected Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale as their leader for the next two years.

And the 14 members of the Democratic caucus selected Maria Sachs of Delray Beach as Smith’s second-in-command as Senate Democratic Leader Pro Tempore.

Smith and his House counterpart, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, are the second pair of black Democratic leaders since Smith served as House caucus leader with former Sen. Les Miller of Tampa in 2005-2006. Both Thurston and Smith, who once ran against each other for a state House seat, are Fort Lauderdale lawyers. Smith’s

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and his second-in-charge, Sen. Garrett Richter along with former Senate president and now CFO Jeff Atwater attended the break with tradition. Today’s ceremony event was held in Old Capitol but generally a brief affair conducted on the chamber floors.

Facing Gaetz who sat in the front row, Smith called on the lawmakers to implement the federal health care law, something the GOP-controlled legislature has refused to do since the law was passed in 2010.

“The election’s over. It’s been debated…litigated and proscrastinated,” Smith said. “It’s time to implement Obamacare and show our citizens that Florida cares.”

West watch: no concession, no decision on challenging apparent Murphy win

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by George Bennett

Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West has neither conceded nor committed to future challenges after final results from St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties on Sunday showed Democrat Patrick Murphy winning the congressional District 18 race by 1,904 votes or 0.58 percent.

Murphy’s margin is just beyond the state’s 0.5 percent threshold for an automatic recount. And Murphy’s lead would be 242 votes larger if problem-plagued St. Lucie County hadn’t missed Sunday’s noon deadline for submitting final results after a recount of more than 37,000 ballots from early voting.

The state’s Elections Canvassing Commission will meet Tuesday morning in Tallahassee to give final certification to all elections results from across the state. Once the results are certified, West would have 10 days to contest the election — a decidedly uphill proposition.

“We will be discussing how we will move forward at some point tomorrow,” West campaign spokeswoman Michele Hickford said today.

West and his campaign publicly toned down talk of contesting the race as Sunday wore on.

Soon after St. Lucie County blew the noon deadline, West campaign manager Tim Edson declared: “This election is far from over. We will continue to fight on behalf of all voters in District 18 to ensure a fair and accurate count of their votes.”

But later in the afternoon, West issued a statement that left his options open but wasn’t as combative as Edson’s.

“We will review the results of today’s recount and the other available data to determine how to proceed. I have been humbled by the support we have received and the hard work of so many to ensure the integrity of this process,” West said.

A few hours later, West put a statement on Facebook that neither conceded nor mentioned the possibility of fighting on.

“From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone for their support during this effort to ensure the integrity of our electoral process. It is truly humbling. I cannot state enough how proud I am to stand with each and every one of you, patriots all. You are the bedrock of our constitutional republic,” West wrote.

The West campaign remains interested in a report by three Florida Division of Elections auditors who were sent from Tallahassee last week by Secretary of State Ken Detzner to monitor the St. Lucie County elections office.

That report “will likely not be completed until after Thanksgiving,” Detzner spokesman Chris Cate said.

Feds propose voting changes

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Justice Department is eyeing changes to the country’s voting processes to address a myriad of problems including long lines and other voting woes that again shined a spotlight on Florida.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who oversees the agency’s civil rights division, some proposed fixes during a speech at a George Washington Law School symposium last week.

While he didn’t single out Florida by name, many of Perez’s observations reflected problems encountered by voters, including those in Palm Beach County, during early voting and on Election Day. The Justice Department monitored elections in 23 states, including Florida, this year.

Perez said DOJ is still reviewing the federal monitors’ observations.

“But there is at least one obvious takeaway, which the country has spent much of the last week discussing: there were widespread breakdowns in election administration in state after state, which forced voters in many states to wait in line for hours at a time – in some states and counties, up to six hours or more,” Perez said.

Among the changes proposed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who oversees DOJ’s civil rights division, are:
- Automatic registration of all eligible citizens;
- Same-day registration;
- Allowing voters who move to cast regular ballots, instead of provisional ballots that have a greater chance of being discarded, on Election Day.

But Perez went even farther, saying reform is needed regarding “deceptive election practices,” which he called “dishonest efforts to prevent certain voters from casting their ballots.

Florida was one of more than a dozen states that passed elections laws critics say were aimed at making it harder for Democrats and minorities, who helped boost Obama into the White House in 2008, to cast their ballots.

“Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of attempts to gain partisan advantage by keeping people away from the polls – from literacy tests and poll taxes, to misinformation campaigns telling people that Election Day has been moved, or that only one adult per household can cast a ballot,” Perez said.

Perez also addressed the issue of voter fraud, which GOP sponsors and supporters of Florida’s election law (HB 1355) said was the reason behind the changes.

“Let’s work to prevent fraud, but let’s not erect new, unnecessary requirements that have a discriminatory impact. Let’s have a debate on the merits without trying to make it harder for our perceived opponents to vote,” he said.

Provisional ballots are also a concern, Perez said. DOJ is considering whether Congress should impose national standards for counting provisional ballots in federal elections, he said.

And Perez also targeted what he called “partisan mischief” in state and local elections administration.

“We risk leaving our election processes open to partisan mischief – or to the perception of such mischief. We should have a serious conversation about solutions to this risk, including developing an entirely professionalized and non-partisan system for administering our elections,” he said.

Senate president to create select committee on federal health care law

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, who will officially take the gavel tomorrow, will create a select committee on the the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” the federal health care law that he and other Republicans were banking on being repealed.

After two years of ignoring the law and President Obama’s re-election, GOP legislative leaders are scrambling to figure out how to comply with the law and meet deadlines dealing with health care exchanges, or marketplaces where small businesses and individuals can shop for health insurance. The exchanges are the cornerstone of the federal health care law and are part of the plan to provide health insurance to more than 30 million uninsured Americans nationwide.

Gaetz, R-Niceville, released proposed new rules that lawmakers will officially endorse tomorrow during the organizational session kicking off the 2013 legislative session.

Among other things, the new rules require each of the 40 members of the Senate to take a minimum of one hour of ethics training.

And the new rules prohibit senators from voting on a measure in which they have a conflict of interest. Under the old rules, senators had to disclose the conflict but were still permitted to vote on the matter.

Palm Beach County has two new state senators who will be sworn in along with other newly-elected members tomorrow. Democratic Sens. Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington and Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, both former state representatives, join fellow Democrat Sen. Maria Sachs of Delray Beach. Clemens survived a heated primary against state Rep. Mack Bernard and Sachs defeated former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, in a brutal race for a newly drawn Senate district encompassing parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties. Sen. Joe Negron, R- Stuart, is the lone GOP senator representing part of Palm Beach County.

Judge denies Allen West’s recount request; focus now on 4 p.m. canvassing board meeting

Friday, November 16th, 2012 by George Bennett

FORT PIERCE — A judge today denied U.S. Rep. Allen West‘s request that he order a recount of 37,379 ballots from early voting in St. Lucie County — effectively leaving the decision up to the county’s canvassing board, which meets today at 4 p.m.

Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn said he did not have the authority to issue an injunction ordering the recount, which West wanted after problems emerged in the counting of early votes on election night.

Unofficial returns show Democrat Patrick Murphy leading the race by 1,907 votes or 0.58 percent in District 18, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties.

West has not conceded.

In denying West’s motion, Vaughn noted the canvassing board is considering the issue at a meeting this afternoon. The judge also said that West has other legal remedies — specifically mentioning a statute that allows a candidate to contest an election within 10 days of the final certification of results. That certification is scheduled for Tuesday.

After West filed his motion for an injunction on Tuesday in St. Lucie County circuit court, the canvassing board on Thursday scheduled a meeting for this afternoon to consider a full recount of early votes.

Murphy attorney Gerald Richman said in court today that there is no basis for a full recount of early votes and if the canvassing board orders a full recount of them, the Murphy campaign will go to court to try to block it.

“If the canvassing board were to decide that they want to do that without any evidentiary basis to do so, we’ll be back before your honor with a motion for injunctive relief against them doing it because under the law the statute that we cited for your honor they have absolutely no right to do it,” Richman said.

“Now we’re getting both sides threatening us,” said St. Lucie County Attorney Dan McIntyre, representing the canvassing board.

The canvassing board originally planned a full recount of early votes after some were double-counted and others were ignored on election night. But after announcing the full recount late Saturday, the board reversed course Sunday morning and decided to only recount 16,275 ballots from three of the eight days of early voting.

That recount resulted in 799 early votes vanishing from the West-Murphy race. West argued the irregularities that came to light in the partial recount merited a full recount.

West’s attorneys also amended their complaint this morning to ask for a recount of approximately 37,000 absentee ballots from St. Lucie County, but Vaughn did not rule on that petition.

In an amended complaint filed this morning, the West campaign says its review of absentee ballot records shows “significant problems” with those ballots as well the early votes. The West camp says that in some precincts, the number of absentee votes recorded exceeds the number of voters who are listed as casting absentee ballots.

Under Florida law, a candidate must be within 0.5 percent to merit a recount. Murphy’s margin is larger. The West campaign technically wanted the judge — and now the canvassing board — to order a “retabulation” under Florida statutes, which allow a county to conduct such an exercise if it finds errors in its initial tabulation of votes.

If there is a retabulation, West would need to gain a few hundred votes to get within 0.5 percent and trigger a full recount from all three counties.

As hearing looms, Allen West wants recount expanded to absentee ballots

Friday, November 16th, 2012 by George Bennett

Supporters of Rep. Allen West outside the St. Lucie County Courthouse in Fort Pierce today.

FORT PIERCE — Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West‘s attorneys this morning amended their request for a recount of more than 37,000 ballots cast during early voting in St. Lucie County to also include a request to recount about 37,000 absentee ballots from the county.

A hearing is set for 1 p.m. before St. Lucie County Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn.

Unofficial returns show Democrat Patrick Murphy leading West by 1,907 votes or 0.58 percent. West has not conceded, citing admitted errors by the St. Lucie County elections office in tallying early votes on election night. Elections Supervisor Gertrude Walker says those problems, which included double-counting some ballots and failing to count others, were rectified in a partial recount Sunday and no further recounts are needed.

In an amended complaint filed this morning, the West campaign says its review of absentee ballot records shows “significant problems” with those ballots as well the early votes. The West camp says that in some precincts, the number of absentee votes recorded exceeds the number of voters who are listed as casting absentee ballots.

Placard-carrying West supporters are marching and chanting outside the courthouse in anticipation of the two-hour hearing.

Under Florida law, a candidate must be within 0.5 percent to merit a recount. Murphy’s margin is larger. The West campaign technically is asking for a “retabulation” under Florida statutes, which allow a county to conduct such an exercise if it finds errors in its initial tabulation of votes.

Allen West campaign to make its recount argument in court today

Friday, November 16th, 2012 by George Bennett

Attorneys for Republican U.S. Rep. Allen West‘s campaign today will ask a judge for a recount of all 37,379 ballots cast during early voting in St. Lucie County in West’s tight re-election race against apparent Democratic victor Patrick Murphy.

Arguments before St. Lucie County Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn begin at 1 p.m. in Fort Pierce. Follow, and for updates.

While waging its court fight, the West legal team also sent a letter late Thursday to Secretary of State Ken Detzner outlining what it says are other inconsistencies in St. Lucie County’s vote totals and arguing that “serious doubt exists as to the accuracy of the vote count so far reported by St. Lucie County.”

Detzner has sent three representatives to Fort Pierce to monitor the St. Lucie County elections office and make recommendations.

Unofficial returns show Murphy edging West by 1,907 votes or 0.58 percent in congressional District 18, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties.

West has not conceded, citing problems with the early vote tally in St. Lucie County, where Elections Supervisor Gertrude Walker has acknowledged her office double-counted some ballots and ignored others on election night.

Walker says the problem was limited to ballots cast on the last three days of early voting. She says a partial recount of those ballots Sunday — in which 799 votes disappeared from the West-Murphy race and 448 new votes were discovered in the Fort Pierce mayor’s race — fixed the problems and no additional recounts are needed.

The West campaign says the irregularities that came to light in the partial recount of early votes justify a full recount of all the early ballots. West’s motion asks Vaughn to order a full recount and bar the county from certifying its results until such a recount is complete.

Counties must file certified results with the state by noon Sunday. The state’s Elections Canvassing Commission gives final certification to all results Tuesday.

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