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King of Calypso to join Dream Defenders Capitol takeover

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Support is swelling for the Dream Defenders Florida Capitol sit-in as state and national leaders plan to join in on the protest outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office.

Singer Harry Belafonte, best known for “The Banana Boat Song,” is slated to join the protest tomorrow. Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew said he met Belafonte, a civil rights activist, in New York last month and that the singer/actor’s office reached out to him asking how Belafonte could support the cause.

A number of black pastors will join the sit-in later today and nearly two dozen could spend the night in the Capitol rotunda outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office where the protesters are now on their 10th day, Agnew said.

The group, comprised mainly of college students from around the state, staged the sit-in after George Zimmerman’s acquittal earlier this month. Zimmerman was accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, on Feb. 26, 2012. The protesters are seeking a repeal of the Florida’s first-in-the-nation stand your ground law that allows individuals who feel their lives are in danger to use deadly force without the obligation to retreat and provides immunity from prosecution. Although Zimmerman did not use the law to avoid a jury trial, stand your ground was part of the jury instructions and one juror blamed the law on the six-woman panel’s failure to convict Zimmerman.

Former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, the state’s only official Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also said she plans to join the group this weekend. And the Rev. Al Sharpton said last week that he plans a stop in Tallahassee before an Aug. 24 march in Washington, D.C., commemorating the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech” half a century ago.

The protesters also are asking the state to reconsider laws and policies dealing with juvenile detention and school “zero tolerance” policies they say are responsible for Trayvon Martin winding up in Sanford on the night he was killed.

Scott and House and Senate leaders insist they will not reconsider the stand your ground law. But midway into their second week in the Capitol, Agnew said the protesters remain upbeat and gave no indication of giving up the fight.

“We’re increasing people power. And we’re applying pressure on the local level. We’re very excited. It’s almost Friday. Friday’s always awesome,” Agnew, a 28-year-old Florida A & M University graduate, said. “We’re really making the space our own. The Capitol is the people’s and we’re going to go stay there until we get something done.”

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights member: ‘Stand Your Ground’ responsible for Zimmerman acquittal

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights member Michael Yaki, who initiated the federal panel’s investigation into racial bias and stand your ground laws, blamed George Zimmerman’s acquittal on Florida’s first-in-the-nation law giving allowing people to use deadly force without retreating if they feel their lives are in danger.

Zimmerman’s lawyers argued that the neighborhood watch volunteer shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense after the unarmed black teenager attacked him. Zimmerman was following Martin in a townhome community in Sanford.

Yaki, who once worked for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, issued the following statement this morning:

While the jury has spoken, the fact remains that an unarmed young man, with his whole future ahead of him, was killed by a gun. It is my personal belief that Florida’s Stand Your Ground, coupled with easy access to guns, was a largely responsible for this tragedy. But notwithstanding my personal feelings, the Trayvon Martin case opened up a nationwide inquiry into the appropriateness and efficacy of Stand Your Ground laws, and the US Commission on Civil Rights will pursue this investigation wherever it leads. To honor Trayvon and his family we will continue this inquiry with resolve and renewed purpose.

The Justice Department is reviewing the case, and the NAACP has gathered nearly 1 million petitions demanding that Zimmerman be charged with a federal hate crime.

UPDATE: Capitol sit-in planned over Zimmerman not guilty verdict

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Photo courtesy Dream Defenders

UPDATE: At least 50 protesters from around the state are settling into Gov. Rick Scott’s office on the first floor of the Capitol. The Dream Defenders and others want Scott, who’s in New York, to call a special session and are demanding lawmakers establish the Florida “Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act.” The group, mostly students, want changes to Florida’s stand your ground law and “zero tolerance” school policies and are asking for anti-racial profiling training for law enforcement officers. So far, the protest has been orderly as buses of more protesters, many of them college students, continue to arrive. Organizers said they expect at least 200 to join the sit-in and they plan to stay overnight.

Young people from around the state are planning a sit-in at Gov. Rick Scott’s office in reaction to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Dream Defenders are busing up college students and others from Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Gainesville to demand that Scott call a special session to review stand your ground, racial profiling and zero tolerance school policies they believe are the reason Trayvon Martin wound up in Sanford last year.

Organizers expect as many as 200 to attend the protest they’re calling #TakeoverTuesday on Twitter.

Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew said they’re prepared to wait “as long as it takes” for their demands to be met.

Scott’s in New York today and the Legislature won’t be in town until September at the earliest, when committee meetings meeting.

Like many others around the country, Agnew and his group, who’s protest has the blessing of the left-leaning Florida New Majority, are frustrated by Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict. Protests and vigils began the day after Saturday’s verdict and Al Sharpton, who will be at the NAACP convention in Orlando on Wednesday, said his organization is planning rallies in 100 cities in front of federal courthouses on Saturday.

“This is our step. We can’t burn our communities down. We can’t riot. So what can we do but go to the seat of power and ask them to do what they’re supposed to do,” Agnew said early this morning.

Agnew said the group is aware that Scott and the Legislature aren’t around but they wanted to give the leaders plenty of time to work on the Dream Defenders agenda the protesters believe will help avoid future tragedies.

Trayvon Martin, who lived in Miami Gardens with his mother Sybrina Fulton, was suspended from high school prior to going to Sanford to stay with his father Tracy. The Dream Defenders and other groups have made zero tolerance policies they call the “schools-to-prisons pipeline” a top issue.

Bondi bashes Obamacare with FOX friends

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined FOX News “Fox & Friends” host Gretchen Carlson early this morning for the latest round of Obamacare-bashing.

Bondi, a former contributor to FOX News and frequent guest on the conservative network since her 2010 election, was asked about the latest twist in the federal health care law that spurred an outcry from Republicans.

President Obama’s administration announced on Friday it was delaying requirements that state-run health care insurance exchanges verify applicants’ eligibility for subsidized health care coverage.

Bondi railed against the HHS delay of the verification for eligibility. But the new rule won’t affect Florida because the state is not running its own exchange. Just 16 states and the District of Columbia chose to set up their own marketplaces. Like Florida, nearly every other state has defaulted to the federal government’s exchange.

“Here, now, we have nothing to prevent fraud. Anyone can come and say that they qualify for this and there’s absolutely no verification,” Bondi, a Republican, told Carlson.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it would delay the required random checks for eligibility for a year. The online exchanges are supposed to go up on Oct. 1, and individuals are slated to begin purchasing insurance through them by Jan. 1.

Bondi took over a multi-state lawsuit led by Florida against the Obama administration over the health care law after she took office in 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law last year but ruled that states do not have to participate in an expansion of Medicaid that was a key portion of the federal law. Florida lawmakers opted this year not to expand the federal-state health care program for the poor. The expansion would have covered about 1 million uninsured Floridians.

The fact that the new regulation won’t impact Florida didn’t diminish Bondi’s outrage.

“It’s going to be unbelievable,” she said. “I’m not going to say everybody’s going to commit fraud…
I would hope they wouldn’t. But we’ve opened something up that is vulnerable and invites fraud. That’s what frightens all of us. It’s going to be difficult for the IRS to verify. It’s going to be difficult for state authorities to verify. It’s just one more example of what a mess this federal takeover has become.”

Should a warrant be required to access prescription drug database?

Monday, July 8th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A rule-making workshop about the state’s prescription drug database elicited comments from just one member of the public, a lawyer representing the ACLU who offered suggestions about how to tighten security for the program.

State health officials ordered the workshop, scheduled to last five hours, in response to the leaking of 3,300 patients’ prescription drug information in a Volusia County drug sting to lawyers representing defendants in the case.

The security breach prompted Michael Lambert, a Daytona Beach lawyer whose prescription drug history was among thousands of others’ handed out by a prosecutor and who is among the accused, to challenge the constitutionality of the database in court. Lambert says the database is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy and violates protections against searches and seizures by the government.

Accessing the database should require a search warrant, ACLU lobbyist Pamela Burch Fort told the panel. But that’s not something the department can do with a rule. Instead, it would require the Legislature to change the laws regarding the program, called the Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation Program, or E-FORSCE.

But Burch Fort also suggested that the state notify individuals like Lambert whose names have been released to third parties but who are not under investigation.

The state should also limit law enforcement agents’ ability to go on “fishing expeditions” when they query the database. Under current guidelines for the program, investigators can use a “wildcard search using partial text,” allowing them to enter partial names or conduct a search for a name that sounds like the subject’s name.

And the department should redact the names of anyone whose drug history shows up in a search but who is not part of an active investigation, the ACLU, which opposes the database, suggested. The ACLU of Florida has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the release of the names.

Department of Health officials did not take questions from reporters following the meeting, which lasted about half an hour, and instead directed reporters to submit questions in writing.

But Lorrie Abramowitz, an investigator with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, said a warrant should not be required to access the database because they aren’t needed to access pharmacists’ or doctors’ prescription drug records.

Abramowitz has investigated drug crimes for nearly two decades, and, like other law enforcement officials including Attorney General Pam Bondi, she said the database has dramatically reduced the number of “doctor shoppers.”

“It absolutely has been a huge asset,” Abramowitz said. “It’s working.”

Officials at the Florida Department of Health, which oversees the program, announced in June they were exploring stricter security measures to help ensure patients’ privacy. The department will have another workshop in August.

Trifecta: Bondi files re-election papers

Monday, July 1st, 2013 by Dara Kam

Joining her two GOP Cabinet colleagues, Attorney General Pam Bondi filed papers on Monday to seek another term as the state’s top legal eagle.

Bondi announced her entree into the 2014 race on Twitter: “Officially filed for re-elect this morning-looking forward to continuing working hard and serving the people of Florida!”

Chief Financial Jeff Atwater and Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam have also filed their initial campaign documents. Thus far, only Putnam has drawn a Democratic challenger.

Bondi, backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, won a three-way Republican primary in 2010 and handily defeated Democrat Dan Gelber, winning nearly 55 percent of the vote.

Since she took office in 2011, Bondi’s been at the forefront of some high-profile lawsuits. She took over predecessor Bill McCollum’s case against the federal government over the federal health care law, ultimately losing when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the law is constitutional but that states don’t have to participate in the expansion of Medicaid.

More recently, Bondi sued BP over the Deepwater Horizon oil blast that rocked Panhandle tourism and dumped oil onto the region’s pristine beaches and emerald waters.

She also was one of the lead attorneys general in settlement with banks over foreclosures.

Since her election in 2010, Bondi has been on a crusade to stop prescription drug abuse, convincing Gov. Rick Scott to back a statewide prescription drug database and backing measures to crack down on “pill mills.”

Bondi’s also a renowned pet-lover who brings her St. Bernard Luke to work with her and has made a habit of bringing dogs available for adoption to Cabinet meetings.

Palm Beach County can’t sue Legislature over gun law, appeals court rules

Friday, June 28th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County commissioners won’t fight a ruling from the 1st District Court of Appeals upholding a lower court decision in their battle to undo a gun law that imposes fines and other penalties against local officials.

The appeals court agreed with Leon County judge John Cooper, who ruled last year that the county can’t sue the Florida House or the Florida Senate over the 2011 law that bans local officials from imposing gun laws.

The 2011 law imposes a $5,000 fine and removal from office for local officials who violate it.

A county attorney on Friday said the commission won’t appeal Thursday’s ruling but the suit against Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi will proceed.

County commissioners argued that the law is unconstitutional and that the sanctions “are simply a form of political bullying that serves no governmental purpose” and have a “chilling effect.”

Ethics complaint filed against Sachs over residency

Friday, June 28th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Sen. Maria Sachs has been hit with an ethics complaint accusing her of lying about where she lives.

Matthew Feiler, a Tamarac resident, filed the complaintcomplaint on Thursday, accusing Sachs, who was elected to the Broward-Palm Beach District 34 seat in November after a brutal election against Republican former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, of falsifying public documents and violating state law requiring that lawmakers live in the districts they represent.

Sachs, whose district office is in Delray Beach, claims she lives in a Fort Lauderdale condo owned by lobbyist pal Judy Stern. But the complaint alleges she actually lives at a $1.5 million estate in Boca Raton owned by the former prosecutor and her husband Peter.

The complaint was filed after a WPLG Miami “Local 10″ investigation by Bob Norman. Private investigators videotaped Sachs arriving at her Boca home and leaving in the morning. The conservative website “Media Trackers” first questioned Sachs’s living arrangements in April.

The dispute about Sach’s living arrangements came up during hearings on Stern’s daughter Barbra’s appointment by Gov. Rick Scott to the state Elections Commission. Barbra Stern is part-owner of the condo Sachs claims is her home.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee signed off on Barbra Stern’s appointment, but only after Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, questioned Stern of Fort Lauderdale — about her ownership interest in the unit. Stern at the time said her mother paid the bills on the unit, that she hadn’t visited the condo for years and she had no idea who lived there.

The Sachs-Bogdanoff battle was one of the most expensive – and ugliest- state Senate races last year. Republicans had hoped to keep Bogdanoff in the Senate in the newly-drawn district, but Sachs’s victory helped Democrats gain two seats in the chamber.

Wednesday’s complaint is Sachs’ latest ethics challenge. The commission found probable cause earlier this month that Sachs failed to properly disclose a Tallahassee condo along with her state legislative income on three years’ worth of financial disclosures. The panel decided not to punish her because she amended the forms.

Death Row lawyers and inmates challenge new fast-track death penalty law

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Attorneys representing Death Row inmates have filed a challenge to a law aimed at speeding up executions, saying the “Timely Justice Act” unconstitutionally usurps the Supreme Court’s powers and violates convicts’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

The lawsuit is led by two lawyers – Capital Collateral Regional Counsel South Neal Dupree and Capital Collateral Regional Counsel Middle Bill Jennings – who head the state agencies that represent Death Row inmates in post-conviction proceedings. Dozens of other lawyers and more than 150 inmates awaiting execution joined the lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state of Florida filed with the Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon.

The lawyers filed the lawsuit less than two weeks after Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure into law.

The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, requires the Florida Supreme Court to certify to the governor when a Death Row inmate’s appeals have been exhausted. Under the new law, the governor will have 30 days to sign a death warrant once the capital clemency process is complete.

The lawyers have asked the Court to issue an emergency injunction blocking the law from going into effect.

“The Act creates a rushed process for issuance of a flood of death warrants that will inundate the courts and abruptly cut off this Court’s exercise of judicial review in capital cases. If not addressed prior to its operation in practice, the process will have the unconstitutional and irreversible result of individuals being executed under a legislatively-determined judicial procedure in which violations of their constitutional rights go unresolved. Further, Florida history shows that diminished process can have tragic and irreversible consequences,” the lawyers wrote in the 89-page filing.

The court filing includes a lengthy examination of both the Court’s and the legislature’s efforts over the past 30 years to come up with a more expedited but fair death penalty process “to balance the concerns of fairness and justice with the need for finality” in death penalty cases.

That process “cannot and should not be displaced by a lawmaking process based on political, rather than constitutional and equitable, concerns,” wrote Dupree and Jennings, joined by Martin McClain, who has represented numerous Death Row inmates, included some who have been exonerated.

Since signing the bill, Scott’s office has launched a public relations campaign disputing reports that the new law speeds up executions and insisting instead that the law “makes technical amendments to current law and provides clarity and transparency to legal proceedings.”

According to Scott’s office, 13 Death Row inmates would fit the criteria under the new law to have a death warrant signed.

But in the court filings, lawyers for the condemned argued that the Legislature’s new scheme to limit post-conviction appeals lacks an understanding of the complexities of the process and imposes restrictions on federal appeals.

The Legislature “has made profoundly critical decisions determining what judicial vehicles are available to capital defendants prior to the State taking the ultimate punitive act of terminating their lives, yet it seems the Legislature does not have an understanding of those vehicles and their names. Unless, that is, we must presume that the Legislature intended to cut off U.S. Supreme Court review of Florida death cases, which would present concerns of federalism, constitutionality, and fairness beyond those addressed herein,” the lawyers wrote.

The lawsuit also accuses the law of violating the separation of powers between the branches of government because it gives the governor the authority to oversee whether the Clerk of the Supreme Court complies with the 30-day requirement to notify the governor once appeals have been completed and because it takes away some of the court’s rulemaking authority by imposing time limits on the production of public records in post-conviction cases.

And the new law also fails to take into account that some appeals, including whether an inmate is insane cannot be made until after a warrant is issued, the Death Row lawyers argued.

The law would also give unequal treatment to convicts whose cases were processed before the new act went into effect, the lawyers wrote.

UPDATE: Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rene Garcia: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross political attacks “reprehensible”

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: “Florida Jobs First” spokesman Eric Jotkoff shot back this snarky response to Garcia’s letter: “Senator Garcia’s comments will carry as much weight with us as they did in the Senate, where his stance against the referendum was rejected by an overwhelming 35-4 vote. The people of Miami-Dade deserved the right to vote on the modernization and the 4,000 jobs it would have created. They deserved a fair shot at Super Bowls 50 and 51, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity they would have generated. Speaker Weatherford made clear after blocking the vote that he did it in part because of the Miami-Dade delegation, so we are just following the path he laid out by holding the opponents in the delegation accountable. We will keep fighting for jobs for Florida, just like we would expect every elected official to do.”

Sen. Rene Garcia, chairman of the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus, sent a blistering letter to Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross demanding an apology for his “reprehensible” and “condemnable” political punishment of Hispanic lawmakers who opposed a stadium deal earlier this year.

Ross set up the “Florida Jobs First” PAC to raise money for Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection bid and attack legislators who weren’t sold on the proposal to increase Miami-Dade County’s hotel bed tax to underwrite a $350 million Sun Life Stadium renovation. Ross reportedly lost $10 million on the failed referendum.

“We understand that you certainly have a right to express your discontentment; however, directly attacking legislators because of their decision to adhere to their principles in standing with their constituency on an issue directly affecting your own financial viability is reprehensible and certainly condemnable,” Garcia wrote in the letter sent to Ross on Wednesday. Garcia also threatened that Ross’s attacks may “diminish the sense of goodwill” the Dolphins have in the community.

Read The Post’s Dolphins reporter Andrew Abramson’s full blog on the Dolphins dust-up here, and the full text of Garcia’s letter to Ross after the jump.

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ACLU seeks federal probe of FL drug database

Monday, June 24th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The ACLU of Florida has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the state’s prescription drug database after the Rx drug histories of 3,300 patients were leaked to lawyers in a narcotics sting last month.

The civil rights group is accusing the state Department of Health; the program manager of the drug database, called ““E-FORCSE” (Electronic Florida On-Line Registry of Controlled Substances Evaluation Program); the U.S. DEA; the office of R.J. Larizza, state attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit; and other unknown entities and individuals of violating Floridians’ privacy.

Larizza gave the list of names to five of six attorneys for defendants accused of prescription drug fraud in May. Last week, he filed court documents showing that the 3,300 names were the result of a 2011 query by a DEA agent investigating a prescription fraud ring. Michael Lambert, an attorney whose name was on the list but is not accused of any crime, sued Larizza and is also challenging the constitutionality of the law. Lambert believes it is an unconstitutional violation of privacy and amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure by the government.

Last week, the Florida Department of Health, which oversees the program, announced it was exploring stricter security measures to help ensure patients’ privacy.

In the complaint submitted Saturday, ACLU lawyer Maria Kayanan told federal officials that law enforcement officials are given too much freedom when seeking records from the database, according to the program’s user manual.

Investigators can use a “wildcard search using partial text;” enter partial names or conduct a search for a name that sounds like the subject’s name, Kayanan wrote.

“There is no apparent oversight of the use of DOH’s PDMP by law enforcement, and there is no accountability for its misuse. The unacceptably broad queries and apparent lack of oversight invite abusive fishing expeditions by law enforcement agencies that can and, indeed have, revealed to private third parties, the confidential medical and prescription history, along with other personal identifying information, of thousands of individuals who are lawfully prescribed, and lawfully taking, prescription drugs,” she wrote. An individual’s prescription records are medical records, as they reveal intimate details of an individual’s medical conditions—details that should remain private, within the doctor-patient relationship.”

The ACLU is ramping up its attempt to get state health officials to tell them exactly what DEA Agent Sean Tucker asked for and that resulted in so many patients’ drug records. Health officials initially said the information sought by the ACLU was exempt from the state’s Sunshine Law because it is part of an active investigation.

Kayanan, in a renewed public records request made today, argued that the exemption citing “active investigation” cannot possibly include the other 3,294 people who are not among the six accused in the Volusia County case. She’s also trying to find out how many times law enforcement agencies have used a broad name search in their queries, how long the state is retaining those queries, and all of the requests from investigators the department has rejected.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and others insist the database has contributed to a decline in prescription drug overdoses and a sharp decrease in “doctor shopping.” Gov. Rick Scott initially opposed the program, citing privacy concerns, but later relented.

Created in 2009, the database became operational in the fall of 2011 but funding for the program foundered. Lawmakers banned the use of state money or contributions from drug companies to pay for the program until this year, when Scott signed off on $500,000 in public funds for the database.

Rick Scott’s underground portrait

Friday, June 21st, 2013 by Dara Kam


Gov. Rick Scott, returning to the Capitol today after a week-long trade mission in France, will be greeted by himself at his underground parking spot.

Someone erected Scott’s visage above his parking spot yesterday. It’s unknown who posted his reflective-coated image but it wasn’t at Scott’s request, an aide to the governor said, and there was no cost to the state or taxpayers for the personalized parking plate.

Health officials tightening security of drug database after 3,300 Rx histories revealed

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

State officials are tightening security of the statewide prescription drug database after the names, prescription drug history and other personal information of 3,300 individuals were released to lawyers of six defendants in a prescription drug fraud sting in May.

Wednesday’s announcement by Department of Health officials regarding stricter security measures came on the same day the state attorney who released the records revealed new details about how an investigation into a drug trafficking ring netted so many names of people apparently unrelated to the sting.

The changes to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, backed by prosecutors, are still in the works. The Health Department will hold a workshop on the proposed rules on July 8 to “identify any existing gaps” related to what happens to the records once they are mined from the database and “to establish accountability standards for users of PDMP information,” according to a press release issued by DOH today.

“The PDMP works daily to save the lives of those with prescription narcotic addiction and privacy is job one,” said State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John Armstrong. “That’s why today the Department is taking steps forward to put additional safeguards in place to prevent any unauthorized use of information that is intended to save lives. Moreover, I want to thank the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association for adopting procedures that provide further safeguards on how information from the program is used in court proceedings.”

The proposed changes won’t fix the problem, according to Michael Lambert, the Daytona Beach lawyer whose name was among the thousands on the list. It’s already a crime to knowingly and willfully wrongly distribute the information according to state law.

Seventh Judicial Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza gave the list of names to five of six attorneys for defendants accused of prescription drug fraud. Lambert is suing Larizza and asking a judge to block the law, which Lambert says is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy and unconstitutionally violates protections against government searches and seizures.

Stricter rules about who can look at the data once it’s been retrieved won’t help, Lambert said. Larizza should have redacted the names of the individuals on the list who were not accused of crimes, he said.

“I wasn’t participating in fraud and neither were these other thousands of people. So what right do they they have to get my information out there?”

Scott signs expedited death penalty, 58 other bills into law

Friday, June 14th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Rejecting nearly 15,000 pleas for a veto, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure speeding up executions, saying it includes protections for Death Row convicts and “does not increase the risk of execution of persons who did not commit murder.”

Scott signed the “Timely Justice Act” along with 58 other bills and vetoed two others, including a measure that would have made voters’ e-mail addresses secret, before heading to a trade mission to France on Friday.

Scott also signed into law a business-backed bill that would block local governments from enacting mandatory sick time measures.

Read Scott’s message regarding the death penalty measure here and the sick-leave pay bill here.

Under pressure, hipster retailer drops prescription line

Friday, June 14th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Urban Outfitters is apparently axing its tongue-in-cheek prescription drug line under pressure from health advocates and attorneys general, including Florida’s Pam Bondi.

Bondi’s staff said the Philadelphia-based chain did not contact her office but instead the AG learned about it online.

CNN reported that the company intends to drop the accessories that include a set of syringe-shaped shot glasses along with shot glasses, beer “koozies” and coasters that look like prescription pads.

The coasters bear the label “Al Koholic, M.D.” whose address is on “Brewskis Lane” in “Sloshville, NY.” The beer koozie, also “prescribed” by “Dr. Koholic, Al,” appears to be a prescription bottle for “BOOZEMIN.” And the “prescription shot” glasses are printed with the “Rx #: VRY-NBR8TD” with a quantity “As many as you can stomach” and refills: “Sure!”

CNN is reporting that Urban Outfitters is bowing to pressure from a variety of groups and killing the line.

“In the 20,000 products that comprise our assortment, there are styles that represent humor, satire, and hyperbole,” Urban Outfitters told CNN in a statement. “In this extensive range of product we recognize that from time to time there may be individual items that are misinterpreted by people who are not our customer. As a result of this misinterpretation we are electing to discontinue these few styles from our current product offering.”

Bondi, who’s been on a crusade against prescription drug abuse since her 2010 election, hailed the company’s decision.

“I commend Urban Outfitters for making the right decision by ending its prescription line of products. Prescription drug abuse has destroyed so many lives in our country, and we appreciate the sensitivity that Urban Outfitters has demonstrated by voluntarily discontinuing this line,” she said.

Ethics panel finds probable cause that Maria Sachs erred on financial disclosures

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause to believe that Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, failed to properly disclose a Tallahassee condo along with her state legislative income on three years’ worth of financial disclosures.

But, since Sachs amended the forms, the panel is not recommending any further action unless Sachs requests a hearing, according to a press release issued by the Commission this morning.

Former Palm Beach County Republican Party Chairman Sid Dinerstein filed the complaint against Sachs last fall in the lead-up to the November election as the Democrat was embroiled in a bitter campaign battle against former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. Sachs defeated Bogdanoff in the chase for a newly drawn District 34 seat in one of the state’s most hotly-contested Senate races.

Sachs has also been questioned about a separate condo-related arrangement. was also embroiled in a separate condo-related dispute earlier this year about whether she lives in her district or not.

Barbara Stern and her mother, lobbyist and longtime Sachs friend Judy Stern, are listed as owners of the 740-square-foot unit in Fort Lauderdale in Sachs’ Senate District 34. Sachs owns a house with her husband just outside District 34 in Boca Raton, but rents the condo and lists it as her residence. The Florida Constitution requires legislators to live in the districts they represent.

The conservative MediaTrackers.org website said in in April that it visited Sachs’ Fort Lauderdale address on April 2 and was told by a neighbor that the unit had been vacant for at least six months.

Sachs, who has said she pays $950 monthly rent for the unit, disputed the MediaTrackers report.

“I have fully met the requirements of the law regarding legal residency in District 34,” Sachs said in an April email.

Was Gov. Rick Scott right to worry about prescription drug database?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

It took some convincing, but proponents of Florida’s prescription drug database, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, finally persuaded Gov. Rick Scott to sign off on the program that contains Rx information for narcotics and other addictive drugs.

Scott balked because he didn’t trust that the database couldn’t be hacked or that individuals’ prescription drug info could be erroneously made public.

Now, the ACLU of Florida, which has taken Scott to court over a variety of his policies, is saying that’s exactly what’s happened, and that the drug records of 3,300 individuals has landed in the wrong hands.

The ACLU claims that the prescription drug records of 3,300 individuals were given to prosecutors and defense attorneys in six criminal cases in Volusia County.

“Somehow information that is supposed to remain private and confidential and be safely maintained in this unfortunate database made its way into third parties who have no right to it,” said ACLU of Florida attorney Maria Kayanan.

The civil rights organization is seeking more information about how the patients’ prescriptions, birthdates, addresses was made public during the court cases.

The database was created in 2009 but wasn’t up and running until 2011. Lawmakers this year agreed to allow state money to be used to fund the database, pushed by President Obama’s drug czar and others as way to help fight prescription drug abuse by preventing “doctor shopping.”

The ACLU has issued a public records request to the Florida Department of Health and to the Seminole County Sheriff’s office in search of records relating to requests made by local or federal law enforcement agencies to the Electronic Florida On-Line Registry of Controlled Substances Evaluation (E-FORSCE) database.

“It certainly looks like there were multiple breaches at multiple places. Some of them may have been unintentional. We don’t know. But the bottom line is this is so very wrong,” Kayanan said.

Palm Beach County Dems get high marks from lefties

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Five Palm Beach County Democrats earned “Champions of the Florida’s Middle Class” status from progressives for their votes during the 2013 legislative session that ended in May.

The scorecard is a counterpoint to business-backed Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce ratings in which, as expected, the Democrats received mostly failing marks.

Florida Watch Action, Progress Florida and America Votes identified 18 Florida lawmakers members – all Democrats – who voted with the left 100 percent of the time, according to a press released issues by the groups today.

The 18 include Palm Beach County Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Reps. Lori Berman, D-Lantana; Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth; Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach; and Irv Slosberg, D-Delray Beach.

“These eighteen lawmakers deserve Floridians’ thanks for their unwavering support and leadership on the issues that matter most to middle class families,” said Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo.

House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, also made the progressives’ top 18 list; his Senate counterpart Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, did not.

Scott signs measure requiring emergency care in botched abortions

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure requiring treatment for infants born after an attempted abortion, passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature last month.

The “Infants Born Alive” bill (HB 1129) requires infants born alive after an attempted abortion to provide resuscitative care and require that they be transported to hospitals and receive emergency aid. The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, is modeled on a similar federal law also enacted by other states.

“As a father and grandfather, there is nothing more precious or special than welcoming a new child into this world and by signing this bill, we are protecting the most vulnerable among us and affirming their rights as individuals. This legislation ensures common-sense measures are taken to help care for the babies who survive abortion procedures and grants those infants the same rights as infants who are born naturally,” Scott, a Republican seeking reelection to a second term as governor, said in a statement.

Florida lawmakers unanimously approved the measure after Planned Parenthood representatives signed off on the bill. The new law also requires abortion providers to report infants born alive to the state.

Health care providers say that the chances of an infant being born alive after an abortion are extremely rare because third-trimester abortions are prohibited in Florida unless the life of the mother is in danger. Infants born before then could not survive, some abortion advocates said during testimony on the measure.

Scott, accompanied by his wife Ann and abortion opponents, signed the bill into law at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home in Cantonment. The Panhandle community is near Pensacola, home to some of the state’s most strident anti-abortion activists and the site of an abortion clinic bombing in 1984. Two abortion doctors were gunned down at clinics in Pensacola and a third abortion worker was also killed.

Federal judge refuses to block Internet cafe ban

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A federal judge on Tuesday refused to block a ban on Internet cafes sought by senior arcade owners, who say they’ve unfairly been lumped in with the predatory storefront casinos.

Lawyers for Broward County adult arcades Boardwalk Brothers, Inc., and Play It Again FLA, LLC, claimed the law is unconstitutional in part because it is vague and arbitrary and denied seniors who gamble at the arcades their First Amendment rights of association.

The plaintiffs failed to show how the law would prevent seniors from gathering someplace else, U.S. District Judge James Cohn wrote in a 19-page order.

“Moreover, there is no evidence before the Court that enforcement of the statute would force Plaintiffs out of business and prevent patrons from associating at their establishments. Instead, the statute merely limits the types of games that might be offered. And even if the statute did force Plaintiffs out of business, no citizen enjoys a constitutional right to play amusement games,” he wrote.

Cohn did not rule on the merits of the law hurriedly passed by the Legislature in response to a multi-state gambling sting in April.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill on April 10, less than a month after state and federal authorities arrested 57 people in connection with Allied Veterans of the World, a St. Augustine-based nonprofit accused of posing as a charity while running a $300 million illegal gambling ring. The gambling bust also prompted former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to resign. Carroll had worked as a consultant for Allied Veterans while a member of the Florida House.

The arcades also failed to convince Cohn that the statute goes too far. The “state has a significant interest in proscribing the behavior regulated in the statute” and “an important public interest in limiting gambling and preventing minors from gambling.”

Seniors from Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties traveled to Tallahassee to plead with lawmakers to spare the gambling establishments, arguing that the centers offer relatively inexpensive entertainment and spare them from being lonely.

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