Gov. Rick Scott today goes to Tampa to tout his plan to eliminate a 2009 increase in motorist fees that was approved when his Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, sat in the executive office as a Republican.
The $401 million fee reduction is part of Scott’s pledge to cut $500 million in taxes-and-fees next election year. But if Scott is both looking to help Floridians while hurting Crist with the move, he didn’t get much help a few hours earlier from Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
Meeting with reporters, Gaetz recalled being in the Senate when the increase was approved as the state economy cratered in the recession.
” It was the right vote, it was a hard vote,” Gaetz acknowledged. “None of us liked it….But it was the least worst alternative at the time.”
The Florida Republican Party has centered its scorched earth campaign against Crist on reminding voters about the lousy economy that consumed the state when he was governor from 2007-11. The message effectively warns that electing Crist would bring a return to the bad old days of skyrocketing job losses, budget cuts and federal bailouts.
Gaetz on Thursday didn’t mention Crist. But as someone who, like the former governor, was struggling to keep state government afloat amid a cascade of bad news, Gaetz wasn’t ready to condemn the decision to hike fees.
“It was certainly meant to be temporary,” Gaetz said of the motorist increases. “And the hope was that it could be rolled back at some point.
“But it was hard at that time to see around the corner as to when things would get better, because every month seemed to be getting worse and worse,” he said.
The legislation (SB 250) by Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, was approved by the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on an 8-0 vote. But the bill still has a long way to go in both the Senate and House, where its sponsor is Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton.
“Indeed, not many individuals have had a greater impact or long-lasting impact on Florida than Henry Flagler,” Abruzzo told the panel.
The effort is backed by Palm Beach’s Flagler Museum, whose director, John Blades, has said he envisions a life-sized bronze statue on a black granite base similar to one erected in 2010 on Royal Poinciana Way. Blades told the Palm Beach Post he expected the statue to cost about $75,000, which he said could be easily raised once the legislation is approved.
“We wouldn’t have the state we have today without Henry Flagler,” Abruzzo said following the hearing. “He is the father of Miami, and yet Jacksonville all the way to the west, he’s well regarded. It’d be hard to go to any part of the state and not find some area that should recognize Flagler and his accomplishments.”
If approved, the Flagler statue would stand out on the state Capitol grounds, which has been mostly kept free of monuments.
There’s one statue for slain law enforcement officers; a small marker honoring Martin Luther King; a monument to Confederate soldiers from Tallahassee’s Leon County; and the oldest memorial, from 1861, to Capt. John Parkhill, killed in 1857 while leading a charge against the Seminole Indians.
Orlando Sen. Andy Gardiner was elected Senate President-designate Tuesday by his fellow Republicans, positioning him to lead the chamber for two years following the 2014 elections.
Gardiner, elected to the Senate in 2008, after eight years in the Florida House, would succeed current Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who will oversee his second and final regular session of the Legislature next spring.
But a still-smoldering leadership fight makes the Florida Senate a combustible place. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes part of Palm Beach County, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, are in a bitter clash for the top spot after Gardiner.
Gardiner sought to downplay the possibility of leading a sharply divided Senate.
“This is probably one of the greatest groups of senators that’s ever been put together,” Gardiner said. “Our caucus and the Democratic caucus, we thoroughly enjoy spending time together. When we say there’s a family atmosphere, in my opinion, there really is.”
But when asked by reporters about the “family feud,” Gardiner headed toward the exit.
The outcome of that fight, Gardiner said, “will be determined by the caucus at a later date. Not today.”
In a legal battle whose social and political shadings have drawn an all-star cast of combatants, the Florida Supreme Court this week will consider a measure asking voters to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a range of illnesses.
Much of Florida’s Republican leadership is being joined by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the state’s medical association and law enforcement organizations in fighting the proposed 2014 ballot measure.
On the opposite side, leading Democratic donor John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer close to former Gov. Charlie Crist, is bankrolling the campaign. Crist, previously a Republican while governor, is now running for the office as a Democrat.
A former Democratic House Speaker, Jon Mills of Gainesville, will make the campaign’s case before justices on Thursday.
While the politics of the fight are viewed as closely entwined in next year’s governor’s race, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his opposition stems only from concerns about how the ballot proposal is constructed.
“It’s misleading to voters, flawed and doesn’t really tell you just how pervasive marijuana would be in this state,” Weatherford told The Palm Beach Post. “If this were approved, it would be a nightmare for the Legislature to implement.”
A bi-partisan pair of state lawmakers are pushing to expand Florida’s speed limit to 75 mph — up from the current 70 mph standard set in 1996.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said Tuesday that their proposal would boost the limits by 5 mph on divided highways to 65 mph and another 5 mph to 60 mph on other major roads overseen by the state Department of Transportation.
The federal government abandoned two decades of strict regulation of state speed limits in 1995 — clearing the way for many states to adopt new standards.
“My study of the research from the 17 other states that have already increased their speed limits above 70 miles per hour has led me to believe that it is time for Florida to review this statute,” Brandes said. “This legislation allows traffic engineers to make the decision to raise the speed limit on a roadway if they believe it is safe and advisable to do so.”
Higher limits are seen as contributing to more severe accidents and a stepped-up rate of highway fatalities. Faster driving also uses more fuel. But since 1996, the senators said, the fatalities rate per 100 million vehicle miles in Florida has steadily declined.
The highest speed limit in the nation is currently in Texas, which allows motorist to clock 85 mph on some roads. Utah allows 80 mph limits on some highways.
“Allowing professionals to determine safe speeds based on the engineering standards of individual highways is simply common sense,” Clemens said. “A five mile per hour increase is unlikely to have an impact on road safety, but we’ll let the experts do their job.”
After Rick Scott pushed $1 billion increases in school funding the past two years, Senate Republicans were unimpressed Wednesday by the state Education Department’s proposal for a $386.6 million boost in 2014, when the governor will be running for re-election.
The recommendation would bump up per-pupil spending by a modest 1.87 percent, or $126.77 for each of Florida’s 2.7 million students.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, quizzed state officials who presented the spending proposal to the Senate’s education budget committee. He said that with rising insurance and transportation costs rippling through school districts, the increase could quickly disappear.
The budget panel’s chairman, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said spending talks are at an early stage. But he was hesitant about making big promises for the election-year budget months before the Legislature convenes in March.
Galvano, though, said politics won’t be what drives the bottom line.
“We’re going to base the budget on what’s needed, and in an efficient and effective manner,” Galvano said. “It’s not going to be based on politics. Last year, there was a substantial increase” largely attributed to $480 million earmarked for teacher pay raises.
State educators, though, did seem to make a concession to Scott’s push for holding the line on college and university tuition increase. Neither proposal outlined Wednesday by the state’s college system and Board of Governors includes a proposed tuition hike.
In advance of public hearings on gambling planned around the state, the Florida Senate has set up a website for Floridians to air their views on the issue currently — and the prospects of bringing full-scale casinos to the state.
The first hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m., Oct. 23, at the Broward College North Campus in Coconut Creek. Other hearings are scheduled for Lakeland, Pensacola and Jacksonville stretching into mid-November. The website for submitting comments or signing up to speak at a hearing is: http://www.flsenate.gov/topics/gaming.
The site has plenty more information, including a downloadable copy of the “Florida Gambling Impact Study,” now before lawmakers.
“Understanding local perspectives and personal impacts is an instrumental component of public policy decisions that could impact the future of gaming in our state for generations,” said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, chairman of the Senate Committee on Gaming.
A Florida Senate panel agreed Tuesday to modest changes to the state’s controversial “stand your ground” law, while not ruling out more sweeping steps in the wake of last summer’s George Zimmerman verdict.
The Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 to endorse a measure (CS/SB 130) that requires law enforcement agencies to develop guidelines for neighborhood watch groups and also would demand that they fully investigate any claims made using the self-defense law enacted in 2005.
Proposals to revisit stand your ground went nowhere earlier this year in the Legislature. But last summer’s acquittal of Zimmerman in the shooting 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin has renewed focus on the legislation and Tuesday’s hearing marked the first time lawmakers took a second look at how the law has been applied.
“This has truly been an effort where we have taken this issue…and reached a consensus so far,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. “If there’s more we can do later, we will do it.”
The House has shown little interest in reworking the law. But Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he still will work toward finding agreement with supporters of the legislation on a provision more strictly defining who an aggressor is when two people meet in a violent confrontation.
Senate Republican leaders downplayed Gov. Rick Scott’s call for $500 million in tax and fee cuts Thursday, saying it’s more important for Florida to have robust budget reserves heading into next year’s elections.
Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said lawmakers should first pledge to set aside $1.5 billion in reserves — up from the $1 billion now proposed — before going through the budget and finding cash for other needs.
Negron already wants at least $100 million dedicated to a range of work needed to ease environmental problems stemming from Lake Okeechobee, but he’s not saying ‘no’ to Scott’s election-year tax-and-fee-cut proposal.
“I think that’s a very good marker that the governor has set,” Negron said. “But…to achieve that, we’d have to go through the budget and make reductions and use that money to deploy for those fee-and-tax cuts and other spending.”
The state is expecting an $845.7 million budget surplus next year. But about have the cash is one-time money flowing into the treasury, making it tough to use on cuts that would be a recurring expense, economist Amy Baker told the budget panel.
Scott earlier this month promoted his giveaway plan on a four-day swing across five cities, kicking off the tour in West Palm Beach. Scott hasn’t specified what cuts he’s considering. But the tour gave business leaders a chance to pitch him on a host of ideas, including cutting the state’s sales tax on rental property to lowering utility taxes.
Environmental managers have sent 10 billion gallons of water south from Lake Okeechobee since August 1 to ease the flow of nutrient-polluted water into the troubled St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, a Senate select committee was told Tuesday.
Ernie Barnett, director of the South Florida Water Management District, said the amount of southerly flowing water from the lake that is still brimming near flood stage is certain to increase in coming months.
The move has been helped by almost $2.8 million in improvements to pumping stations and water storage approved earlier this month by state lawmakers, Barnett said.
While the 10 billion gallons has helped, officials said, the select committee heard from a range of local elected leaders and activists urging swifter action to stem the region’s vast water woes.
Nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee has been flowing into the rivers, killing oysters and sea grass and causing a toxic algae outbreak that has forced Martin County health officials to warn residents against coming into contact with the water.
Gov. Rick Scott, who in his first year as chief executive, sharply cut the budgets of state water management districts and eliminated the state’s lead growth management agency, is now trying to ease the problem.
Scott, seeking re-election next year, said last month that he wants state lawmakers to pick up the
entire $60 million tab for building a wetland needed to reduce releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie.
Scott blasted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failing to do its share of the project.
On Tuesday, Select Committee Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also said the Army Corps was in the position of “judge, jury and executioner” when it comes to water management issues.
The corps is intent on keeping water levels lower in Lake Okeechobee to avoid the risk of flood, making the surrounding region deal with the outflow of dirty water, he said.
Instead, Negron said it’s time for Congress to revisit the role of the “monolithic federal bureaucracy,” represented by the corps.
A complaint against Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, for failing to include a $278,000 home she owns in The Villages on financial disclosure forms filed over a six-year period has been dismissed, the Florida Commission on Ethics said Wednesday.
The commission, meeting last week, ruled that Sachs has gone back and amended the forms filed between 2006 and 2011 and the “public interest would not be served by further proceedings.”
The complaint was filed by Kenya Nelson of Delray Beach, who could not be immediately reached for comment.
The House sponsor of Florida’s controversial stand your ground law said Wednesday that he is frustrated that President Obama and others are using the measure and the Trayvon Martin case to rally opposition against Republicans.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, condemned what he called the “manipulation” of a tragic situation. Baxley spoke at a Republican club in Tallahassee where later this month, lawmakers plan to hold a public hearing on the self-defense law.
“He went from a position of saying ‘this young man could be my son’ to ‘this could be me,’” Baxley said of Obama. “When he merged those images, I couldn’t help but feel some political implications to that.”
Baxley said others like the Rev. Al Sharpton have been more explict, saying the Martin case and calls for repeal of stand your ground are aimed at the 2014 and 2016 elections. But Baxley said Republicans are not going to be pressured into overturning a law that he said has heightened public safety.
“Let’s face it. In a political environment, people are going to use whatever they have,” Baxley told reporters after speaking to the Capital City Republican Club. “But let’s don’t let them misuse it.”
The law, approved in 2005 unanimously by the Florida Senate and in an overwhelming, 94-20 vote in the House, was not used by lawyers defending George Zimmerman in the shooting death of the unarmed teen-ager. But it did shape the jury instructions given to the six-woman jury which acquitted Zimmerman.
Florida is among two-dozen states with stand your ground laws, allowing residents to use deadly force to protect themselves.
Before these new laws emerged, people who felt threatened outside their homes were required to flee an attacker if they could before using force to defend themselves.
Like Baxley, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sees little need to change the stand your ground law. But Weatherford has said the House Criminal Justice Committee will hold a hearing this month on the law, mostly to hear testimony from law enforcement authorities about any difficulties they’ve faced with implementing the measure.
Legislation, however, also has been filed to repeal the law — or modify its use.
Leaders of the activist group, Dream Defenders, which staged a 31-day sit-in at the Florida Capitol ending last month, said they plan to attend the House hearing. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement released a report Wednesday that said providing Capitol Police security at the sit-in cost taxpayers more than $172,500 in overtime expenses.
Barbara Petersen, longtime president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, the news organization-backed open government advocacy group, was named Monday to a legislative panel examining public access to state records and contracts.
Petersen was Senate President Don Gaetz’s pick for the four-person User Experience Task Force, which is expected to make recommendations for next spring’s Legislature. The task force is working on methods to consolidate existing state-managed websites into a single portal that will give the public access to state financial documents.
“Barbara Peterson is Florida’s respected guardian of open records, open meetings and open government,” Gaetz said. “Her leadership of the First Amendment Foundation gives credibility and reliability to this important work.”
The task force has grown out of questions stemming from the Florida Senate’s $5 million contract with Spider Data Services, which developed a site dubbed Transparency 2.0 to give legislators and staff a window into the budget, state contracts and personnel services. The system was ready to launch in November 2011 but was never unveiled.
The Senate has been in a legal battle with Spider Data over payment on the contract.
The Senate has said there are problems with the service and has concerns about how the contract was reached under the previous administration of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne. But some open government advocates say Spider Data’s site may have proved a too open window into how items get inserted into the state budget by lawmakers.
Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that Florida will sue Georgia over that state’s water consumption which is reducing flows into the Apalachicola Bay and damaging the oyster industry.
Florida and Alabama have battled Georgia before over the state’s water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basins for more than two decades. A recent ruling involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, however, sided with Georgia, sending Scott looking to the U.S. Supreme Court for the next round of action.
“This lawsuit will be targeted toward one thing – fighting for the future of Apalachicola,” said Scott, who was joined by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio at a hearing Tuesday in the Gulf Coast city of Apalachicola. “This is a bold, historic legal action for our state. But this is our only way forward after 20 years of failed negotiations with Georgia. We must fight for the people of this region. The economic future of Apalachicola Bay and Northwest Florida is at stake.”
Georgia’s daily consumption is expected to nearly double to 705 million gallons by 2035, with Atlanta’s population largely blamed by Florida officials.
Historically low water levels stemming from Georgia’s consumption have caused oysters to die because of higher salinity in the bay and increased disease and predator intrusion. Oysters in the Bay account for 90 percent of Florida’s oyster supply and 10 percent of the nation’s oyster supply, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“Gov. Scott has done all anyone could to resolve this issue with the state of Georgia,” said Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. “We don’t like to sue our neighbors but their intransigence has left us no other course.”
Scott’s fellow Republican, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, called the Florida move a “frivolous waste of time and money.” Deal said Georgia has taken strides in the past year to conserve water and hinted that Scott’s move is aimed at appealing to voters.
“Gov. Scott’s threat to sue my state in the U.S. Supreme Court greatly disappoints me after I negotiated in good faith for two years,” Deal said. “More than a year ago, I offered a framework for a comprehensive agreement. Florida never responded. It’s absurd to waste taxpayers’ money and prolong this process with a court battle when I’ve proposed a workable solution.”
Gov. Rick Scott appointed longtime lawmaker Mike Fasano as Pasco County Tax Collector, filling a vacancy created by the death of Tax Collector Mike Olson — a move the takes a Republican maverick and frequent Scott critic out of the Legislature.
Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican, was elected to the House last fall — beginning his second run in the chamber. He earlier served in the House from 1994-2002, when he was elected to the Senate, where he served the next decade.
Fasano clashed last spring with House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, over Medicaid expansion. Fasano sided with the Senate and Democrats in the drive to accept billions of dollars in federal aid to expand health coverage to 1.1 million poor Floridians. Weatherford refused, warning that the state would likely be stuck with a larger part of the tab from a federal government he said was unreliable.
Fasano also criticized the governor for failing to do more to sell the expansion to lawmakers.
Fasano had earned a reputation as a party loyalist under former Gov. Jeb Bush, being a leading advocate of the governor’s insistence on fazing out the state’s intangibles tax on investments, which he decried as a tax on “seniors and savers.”
He also was an advocate for customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run insurer which is steadily under fire from business associations backing insurance companies which want a bigger slice of the Florida market.
The Pasco job will pay Fasano $136,000 annually, about five times what he earns as a legislator. The job also makes Fasano eligible for a massive spike in his pension benefits.
“He’s passionate. He cares about our state and he cares about his constituents,” Scott said. “He’s going to be very customer oriented.”
The Obama administration’s decision to delay for a year the requirement that large employers provide health insurance to their workers likely ended any hopes Florida Democrats had of expanding Medicaid coverage in the near future to low-income residents.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, who rallied House Republicans behind rejecting the expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act, said that postponing the employer mandate until 2015 affirmed his fear that the federal government was unreliable in the health care expansion.
“Count on more reversals, changes & unraveling of ObamaCare,” Weatherford posted on Twitter following the announcement. “ There is no way the Feds can make good on their promises.”
By Wednesday, Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was joining in a Republican chorus calling for the repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. “ObamaCare should not simply be delayed, but repealed,” Weatherford tweeted.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also was among state Republicans ready to reverse course.
The stance was more of a departure for Negron. The Senate budget chief spearheaded an effort this spring that would have expanded health coverage to 1.1 million more low-income residents and been fully financed by federal dollars its first three years.
Negron’s plan also would have positioned Florida for $51 billion in federal aid over the next decade.
With the federal mandate lifted for a year, Negron said told The Palm Beach Post, “Businesses in Florida now have one more year to understand and try to implement the law and maybe persuade Congress to revisit the entire law.”
He added, “Maybe this is time to start making a persuasive argument to start over from scratch.”
The Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation is going ahead with a planned July 15 town hall meeting at the county Governmental Center on the Affordable Care Act and rallying support for expanding Medicaid.
But delegation chairman, Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, acknowledged Wednesday that the one-year delay, “definitely slows things down.”
“The positive thing is that the administration took to heart the concerns the business community was having,” Pafford said. “There always will be changes in a big plan like this and there still will be questions.
“But you have to remember, people would have been in much better shape if we had already gone ahead with the Medicaid expansion,” Pafford said.
He called Weatherford’s lashing out at the Affordable Care Act “amateurish.”
Like the Palm Beach delegation, Broward County lawmakers held a town hall last month to emphasize the positives of having more of the state’s almost 4 million uninsured gain health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The effort also was aimed at fanning the hopes of supporters disappointed by the Florida Legislature’s failure to approve some version of Medicaid expansion to cover Floridians expected to fall through the cracks of the federal health care overhaul.
Many advocates for the poor have joined with hospitals and some business associations in urging lawmakers to revisit the issue as early as this fall in a special session.
Some expected business groups to step-up their demand for the state and federal governments to cover more low-income residents as the employer mandate neared. Employers, advocates said, would welcome the state and federal government providing more coverage options to low-income workers with jobs, saving companies some expense.
The Medicaid expansion also was seen as drawing business support because it was seen as reducing the overall cost of providing insurance.
But that strategy now looks out the window.
“At this point, we would hope that businesses would still want to do the right thing and make sure they offer insurance to their workers,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a statewide health advocacy organization based in Jupiter.
“Businesses also have to remember that 2015 isn’t that far away. They can’t put these actions off forever,” she said.
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.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings Wednesday expanding gay rights brought a swift reaction in Florida, with some saying the decisions now turn the focus on Tallahassee and the state’s own 2008 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
“As Democrats, we are committed to full equality for every American,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant. “Today, the Supreme Court moved us further toward that goal. All married couples will now enjoy the federal benefits and protections they have been wrongfully denied for years.”
She added, “There is still a long road ahead before we achieve full equality for GLBT Americans, and here in Florida we stand committed to continue this fight.”
A gay rights advocacy organization, Equality Florida, last week unveiled a statewide campaign called “Get Engaged,” ultimately aimed at ending the state’s constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriage.
Advocates said a ballot proposal to repeal Florida’s constitutional amendment is not planned for next year. But eliminating the ban enacted by 62 percent of Florida voters in 2008 would be a goal of the education campaign.
“Today’s rulings are a major step forward for the country, but for Floridians they fall far short of justice and are more than anything a call to action,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida.
“For those of us who live in state’s like Florida where our marriages are still not recognized, today’s rulings are a reminder that we cannot wait for justice to be handed to us, we are going to have to get engaged and fight,” she added.
Getting a voter-backed repeal effort on the ballot in Florida would not be easy, with more than 600,000 signatures needed for a proposed constitutional amendment.
Although it was only in 2008 that Floridians endorsed the ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions, polls indicate the state and the nation’s views on the issue are changing rapidly.
A survey by liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling in March found that 75 percent of Floridians support letting same-sex couples marry or have civil unions. Only 23 percent of those surveyed in Florida opposed any legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship.
PPP found the numbers, pro- and con-, varied little between registered Democrats and Republicans. Minnesota, Rhode Island and Delaware this spring brought to 12 the number of states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Florida is among 30 states that have adopted bans, similar to the one justices allowed to remain struck down in California.
“It’s a great day for Americans, and for Floridians,” Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said Wednesday, following the high court rulings.
Sobel proposed legislation last spring allowing for a statewide domestic partnership registry. The measure was noteworthy in that it cleared a Senate committee before failing to advance further.
This spring in Tallahassee saw the state’s first two openly gay legislators take seats in the House, Reps. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, and Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach. But the Republican-controlled House and Senate traditionally has resisted issues endorsed by Florida’s gay and lesbian community.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott supports the same-sex ban. But former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat seen as a likely Scott opponent in next year’s governor’s race, last month endorsed gay marriage – despite signing the 2006 petition for a constitutional ban and reaffirming his opposition in 2008.
“I think for anything to change in Florida, it’s going to have to be a grassroots effort,” Sobel said
Rep. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat whose district contains a large gay population, said she was “in solidarity” with the community.
“The past has shown that equality does not always come quickly, and never cheaply; the forces of justice have often
fought those of prejudice and misunderstanding, and lost,” Stewart said Wednesday. ”But today’s ruling proves that while it is not always a steady or even march toward basic civil rights for millions of Americans, it is surely an inevitable one.”
Broward County legislators Tuesday will gather health care providers, business groups and a few Democrats still stinging from the Legislature’s rejection of a push to expand Medicaid to 1.1 million low-income Floridians under the Affordable Care Act.
A town hall meeting is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Broward County Governmental Center’s county commission chambers. A similar event is planned for July 15 in West Palm Beach at the county governmental center and hosted by the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation.
The Florida Senate advanced a plan aimed at drawing billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid, but the House endorsed a sharply scaled back version that relied solely on state taxpayer funding.
“Hardworking Floridians who cannot afford basic health insurance will continue to be denied the care they deserve,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chair of the Broward delegation. Meanwhile, the town halls are designed to rally support for an eventual state embrace of the Medicaid expansion, along with readying Floridians for when the full Affordable Care Act kicks in next January.
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.