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Money or safety? New red light camera study emboldens critics

Monday, February 10th, 2014 by John Kennedy

New state study emboldens red light camera critics

A new state study is emboldening critics of red light cameras in Florida who want the Legislature to either outlaw the controversial devices or dramatically scale-back their money-making potential for cities and counties.

Use of the cameras has proliferated and fines collected have increased 200 percent since 2010-11, according to the new report by the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA).

Meanwhile, fatal crashes have decreased at red light camera intersections. But rear-end and angle crashes have increased, the watchdogs found.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, is sponsoring legislation to repeal the 2010 state law which gave local governments authority to install the cameras.

“Clearly the red light camera vendors are benefiting,” Brandes said Monday. “I think clearly that the ultimate losers have been Floridians who are seeing an increase in the accidents…they were supposed to be about safety. Unfortunately, they’re about revenue.”

The OPPAGA report shows total revenue from the cameras grew from $37.6 million to $118.9 million between 2010 and last year. Nearly half of the fines collected  by local governments are used to pay red light camera vendors, the report found.

Among the counties with red light camera intersections, almost 40 percent had an increase in rear-end and angle crashes, OPPAGA found.

Getting a repeal effort through the House and Senate may be tough — since cities and counties are fiercely defending the use of cameras. But Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, has already advanced a provision in a massive House transportation bill that would prohibit local governments from collecting the kind of money they’ve been taking in from the program.

Artiles also would ban cities and counties from installing more cameras. He has said that “profiteering” is driving the program.

“If we can’t repeal it, we would be willing to modify it,” Artiles said.

Palm Beach County commissioners recently voted to continue the county’s red light program, used at 17 intersections in the unincorporated area. The move came despite a staff study reached few solid conclusions on the effectiveness of the cameras.

The county’s program is operated by American Traffic Solutions. The Arizona-based company commands about 80 percent of the Florida market and has 23 lobbyists poised to work state Capitol hallways this spring.

ATS also is an active political player, contributing $160,000 to the Florida Republican Party and $95,000 to the Florida Democratic Party over the past two years, records show.

Abrams for LG? Will town halls produce viral video? Will GOP commission prospect go indy?

Monday, August 5th, 2013 by George Bennett

Gov. Rick Scott with Palm Beach County Mayor Steven Abrams in West Palm Beach last week. LANNIS WATERS/THE PALM BEACH POST

Palm Beach County Mayor Steven Abrams sure has been getting a lot of face time with Gov. Rick Scott lately, including a one-on-one meeting at a Panera Bread in Boca Raton. Is he being auditioned for the vacant lieutenant governor’s job?

Subscribers to MyPalmBeachPost.com can read what Abrams has to say about it in this week’s Politics column.

Also in this week’s Politics column: With the August recess sending members of Congress back to their districts, some groups would love to create the kind of confrontations that marked the tea party summer of 2009 or the 2011 protests of Medicare changes proposed by Paul Ryan. Read about local members’ town hall plans.

And with Democratic Palm Beach County Commissioner Jess Santamaria leaving next year because of term limits, find out which potential Republican candidate is considering a switch to independent to improve his chances in the Democrat-leaning western-county District 6.

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.”

Palm Beach County Democrats file universal background gun check bill

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Rep. Lori Berman, Sen. Maria Sachs, Rep. Bobby Powell

Acknowledging their proposal to close a “gun show loophole” is a long shot, two Democratic Palm Beach County lawmakers are hoping their identical bills will at least create a debate about the issue during the 2013 legislative session now underway.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, pitched their identical “Universal Background Check Act” bills (HB 1343, SB 1640) that would require background check every time a gun is sold.

“I am not so sold on the idea that this bill is going to pass. I’m being very candid with you,” Sachs told reporters after a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “But let’s have the discussion. Let’s bring everybody to the table and let’s have this discussion so that we have a gun policy in this state that’s reflective of the diversity of the state.”

Currently, a person buying a weapon in a gun store must pass law enforcement background checks, but persons buying arms at gun shows or privately from an owner do not, meaning they could be felons or otherwise prohibited from owning weapons.

Sachs and Berman, joined by county commissioners Mary Lou Berger, Paulette Burdick and Shelley Vana, former commissioner Burt Aaronson and state Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, said they both support Second Amendment rights.

But Berman cited figures from the Coalition to End Gun Violence that showed that background checks are only completed on about 60 percent of the gun sales in the country.

“The issue is that we need to stop the proliferation of people having guns and we need to make sure it’s all being done in a correct, proper and legal manner and that anybody who’s buying a gun has to do it through the proper channels. And that’s what this bill tries to address,” she said.

The bill would require anyone who wants to transfer or sell a gun to use a licensed gun dealer to conduct the transaction. The dealer would be responsible for the background check. If the buyer is ineligible to purchase the gun, the dealer would have to run a background check on the seller in order to return it.

If neither person passes the background requirements, the dealer would have to turn over the gun to the local sheriff within 24 hours.

“This is not a gun show loophole bill. It is a universal background check bill. And it is so brazen it even includes confiscation of firearms,” said National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, a former president of the national association.

But Vana, a former state representative, said the bill makes sense.

“This is a no-nonsense, non-radical method of trying to rein in the terror that has rained down on our citizens,” Vana said.

Hammer says federal law already makes it a felony to sell a gun to anyone a seller knows or reasonably should have known is prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

The bill goes way beyond “fixing a perceived problem,” Hammer said.

“It’s not about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. It’s about making criminals out of law abiding people and taking their guns.”

Lawmakers may give locals OK to ban smoking on the beach

Monday, February 18th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Beach cleanup volunteers throughout Palm Beach County say they see the evidence every time they walk the sands.

“Cigarette butts are the number one item we pick up,” said Todd Remmel, county chapter chairman for Surfrider Foundation, an environmental activist organization. “Beaches are supposed to be a playground. But people use them as ashtrays.”

State Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, wants to change that.

Hager is pushing legislation (HB 439) this spring that would give cities and counties power to enact anti-smoking measures on publicly-owned property that are tougher than those in place at the state level.

State law, which has barred local controls since first enacted in 1985, is aimed chiefly at barring smoking indoors.

The legislation, which so far has been ignored by the influential cigarette industry in Tallahassee, is drawing some pushback from cigar enthusiasts.  A Senate version (SB 258) is scheduled to get its first hearing Thursday in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

Full story here: http://bit.ly/Zjjguz

 

PBC Voters Coalition supports countywide mayor title

Monday, January 14th, 2013 by Jennifer Sorentrue

Palm Beach County’s nonpartisan Voters Coalition has endorsed a proposal to start referring to the county commission’s chairman as the countywide mayor.
Bob Newmark, the coalition’s chairman, sent an email to several county commissioners today in support of the title change.
Commissioners are expected to discuss the proposal at a meeting Tuesday.
Newmark said the title change “would more clearly define the communications route to and from the commission.” It would not change the duties, responsibilities or length of term of the commission’s chair, he added.
“We ask that you vote for the proposal,” Newmark wrote in the email.
During a meeting last month, at least two commissioners said they had concerns the title change would create the impression that the position carried responsibilities and powers in addition to those of the largely ceremonial chairman.
Commission Chairman Steven Abrams proposed the name change in early December, saying it would help county residents and out-of-town leaders better understand duties of the job.
The chairman doesn’t have any additional voting power, but does run the meetings and is often asked to represent the board at events. The duties also include signing paperwork on behalf of the commission.

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.

 

Florida tops in public corruption, changes needed, watchdog says

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 by John Kennedy

With Florida leading the nation in federal public corruption convictions over the past decade, a watchdog group Wednesday urged the state Legislature to give more investigative power to the state’s Commission on Ethics.

Palm Beach County has contributed its share to the statistics, with four county commissioners convicted of corruption charges over a four year period ending in 2010. Integrity Florida, a research organization, said the first step should be for lawmakers to pay attention to the wish list of proposals the ethics panel is expected to approve June 15.

Among the recommendations — some a repeat from earlier years — is that the panel be authorized to begin its own investigations of possible wrongdoing, without waiting for a citizen complaint. Similar calls have been ignored in the past by lawmakers, but Integrity Florida leaders said next year could prove different.

“2013 will be the year we see ethics reforms finally happen in Florida,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, who co-authored the report on Florida with research director Ben Wilcox.

The report concluded that Florida had 781 public corruption convictions between 2000 and 2010, tops in the nation. California and Texas were close behind, with New York fourth. But Florida’s corruptions history also contributed to it having three cities listed this year among Forbes’ magazine’s ‘most miserable,’ with Miami #1, West Palm Beach #4 and Fort Lauderale #7.

Krassner said he has had three meetings with leading officials in Gov. Rick Scott’s administration on the issue. Tea party organizations and the Florida League of Women Voters also have joined the call for tougher ethics standards, he said.

Other proposals Integrity Florida is backing include creating a corruption hotline,  requiring more financial disclosure for public officials, and making it easiner to obtain ethics convictions in cases that go to court. Some of the provisions are included in what the Ethics Commission is expected to recommend to the Legislature later this month.

But the commission that day also is scheduled to consider again writing-off thousands of dollars in penalties imposed against public officials who failed to file state-required financial disclosure forms. The commission prides itself on having a compliance rate of 99 percent for officials submitting their forms, but state law currently gives scofflaws an incentive for waiting out the commission.

A four-year time limit on the commission’s ability to collect led last summer to about $1 million in fines against 800 public officials being written off.

Most of the accused had served on professional boards, pension committees and other panels that generally make up the low minor leagues of state politics. But at least one served as a mayor and ran in 2010 for the state Senate: former North Miami Beach Mayor Joe Celestin. He owed $3,000 in fines accumulated in 2003 and 2005.

Also on the agenda June 14 is Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, who owes $1,500 dating to when he served as a legislative aide in the early 2000s and apparently failed to file disclosures. Fresen didn’t return calls from the Post seeking comment.

Palm Beach County stays out of lawsuit over Medicaid billing

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Palm Beach County — for now — is staying out of a lawsuit filed Thursday by 47 Florida counties over the Legislature’s attempt to recover unpaid and disputed Medicaid bills.

Florida’s 67 counties expect to lose $70.5 million in health care dollars this year. Palm Beach County, alone, could lose almost $8 million. While County Commissioners earlier this month approved resolution supporting the lawsuit, they’re not part of the case filed in Leon County Circuit Court.

“We have a unique situation in Palm Beach with our health care taxing district,” said Todd Bonlarron, the county’s lobbyist. ”The county effectively says ‘you’re responsible…for health care. Our board supports the lawsuit. And they might take another look at it, but not now.”

The Florida Association of Counties also is involved in the challenge, which casts the Legislature’s action as an “unfunded mandate.”  The constitution doesn’t prohibit the state from increasing costs for local governments. But to do so, measures must be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate, which the Medicaid bill (HB 5301) didn’t get. 

  Lawmakers said local governments owe the state $325 million, and the legislation reduces local revenue sharing for several years.

But the amount of debt is disputed, with counties accusing the state of double-billing or demanding payments from them for treating Medicaid patients who turn out not to be county residents.

“This bill represents the worst kind of body blow to taxpayers,” said Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith, president of the Florida Association of Counties, when Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill last month.  ”Rather than correcting Tallahassee’s error-ridden Medicaid billing system, HB 5301 codifies it and leaves local taxpayers with the bill.”

State lawmakers concede billings are frequently inaccurate, especially since Florida changed its system in 2008. In signing the measure, Scott added a letter in which he said the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration will work with counties on specific billing problems.

Union leaders join fight for local wage-theft law

Monday, March 5th, 2012 by Jennifer Sorentrue

Palm Beach County union leaders have teamed up with members of the religious community to urge businesses to stop pushing for a state law that would prevent local governments from enacting rules that help workers who have been cheated out of pay.
Pat Emmert, president of the Palm Beach-Treasure Coast AFL-CIO, and Dwight Mattingly, president and business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union #1577, took aim at the Florida Retail Federation and other business lobbies today for supporting the legislation.
Under the state proposal, Palm Beach County and other local governments would be unable to create an out-of-court system to help resolve wage disputes between workers and their employers.
The “wage theft” bill (HB 609) was one of a series of measure approved by the Florida House last week. similar Senate bill (SB 862) appears to be in trouble in the Senate.
Emmert said she often receives calls from workers who have been “ripped off” by their employers, but she is unable to help them.
A local law that establishes a non-judicial system to resolve wage disputes would give workers the recourse they need, she said.
“I get calls from workers that are not union members because they are desperate,” Emmert said. These people call ill afford to lose a day’s pay.”
Members of PEACE, or People Engaged in Active Community Efforts, have been pushing Palm Beach County commissioners for more than a year to approve an ordinance mirroring a Miami-Dade County law. Commissioners are expected to discuss the issue at a meeting this month.

Scott tells lawmakers to shutter Internet cafés: ‘I don’t believe in it.’

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott said this morning he wants lawmakers to outlaw Internet cafés rather than regulate them as Senate leaders are proposing.

“I don’t believe that the Internet locations are legal or should be legal,” Scott told reporters this morning. “It’s an area that I think doesn’t make sense. I don’t believe in it.”

A House committee passed a measure banning the “casinos on the corner” yesterday but the Senate appears to favor a proposal that would regulate the cafés which operate as “sweepstakes.” Customers pay for Internet time, which they can use to browse the Web or play the games in which computer time or credit is won. Critics say the games are highly addictive and prey on the poor.

Palm Beach County commissioners recently issued a moratorium blocking any new cafes from opening in unincorporated areas.

Scott rejected suggestions that the games are not as bad as the Lottery. Scott’s administration wants the Lottery to sell more tickets this year to help pay for public schools. Scott said the state authorized the Lottery years ago.

“It generates money for our schools. We’re not going to change that,” he said.

House committee approves ban on Internet cafes

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A measure banning Internet cafes in Florida cleared its first hurdle in the Florida House over the objections of two Palm Beach County Democrats and setting up a stand-off with the Senate that wants to regulate the “casinos on the corner.”

Lawmakers need to shutter the cafes because they prey on the poor and elderly and are highly addictive, said bill sponsor Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood.

Plakon also cited reports showing that welfare recipients are using state-issued debit cards to at ATMs at the facilities to underwrite their gambling habit.

Lawmakers can pass his bill (HB 3), do nothing or regulate the facilities, which could cost the state $200 million a year by invalidating a deal Florida has with the Seminole Indians, Plakon said.

“The regulation bill would be the effect of us authorizing 1,000 gambling locations in this state,” Plakon said.

To help persuade the Business and Consumer Affairs Committee to support his bill, Plakon pointed to a San Francisco newspaper that pilloried Florida lawmakers for failing to shut down the cafes.

“This is San Francisco laughing at us,” Plakon said. “San Francisco, mind you members, is laughing at us.”

Cafe customers purchase Internet time, which they can use to browse the Web or play free “sweepstakes” games, in which computer credit or time is won. Those credits can be redeemed for cash.

Palm Beach County commissioners recently issued a moratorium blocking any new cafes from opening in unincorporated areas.
Industry backers say shutting the cafes down would put thousands of workers in the unemployment line.

“What strikes me is the jobs. It seems like some funny, fuzzy math but there are thousands, possibly tens of thousands of jobs at risk,” said Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, on the losing side of a 10-5 vote.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, voted against the measure but said he was troubled by the bill needed more information about the ability the use of welfare money at the cafes.

“This is one of the sickest votes I’ve taken since I’ve been here,” Bernard said.

Bondi, state regulators say no to slots at Gretna and raise doubts about Palm Beach

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State regulators won’t give a Panhandle horsetrack permission to have slot machines without legislative approval or changes to the state constitution based on an opinion issued by Attorney General Pam Bondi on Thursday.

Her non-binding opinion also puts in doubt a local bill Palm Beach County and the Palm Beach County Kennel Club are seeking to get slots approved at the dog track. A referendum on the slots will go before county voters in November.

Bondi issued the opinion in response to a question from state gambling regulators regarding Creek Entertainment Gretna racetrack in Gadsden County. Voters there and in Washington County will decide on Jan. 31 whether they want to allow their local pari-mutuels to offer slots, something the Gretna owners are banking on.

But Bondi said the referenda would only be valid if they are first authorized by the Legislature or in the state Constitution, and Department of Business and Professional Regulation officials said they would comply with her opinion.

Lawyers for PBKC and the Gretna track rejected Bondi’s opinion, accusing her of being biased against the slot machines and promising that the courts will ultimately decide on the issue.

“This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that an Attorney General has opined, for political issues, on a gambling issue outside of their authority,” attorney Marc Dunbar, one of the owners of the Gretna track, said in a statement. “Fortunately the Supreme Court has ruled on many occasions that these advisory opinions have no binding affect and more times than not are eventually rejected by Florida courts. I look forward to meeting her in court where law, not politics, will ultimately decide the issue.”

Scott meets with Palm Beach County officials, mulls riding Tri-Rail

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by John Kennedy

A dozen Palm Beach County leaders huddled Wednesday with Rick Scott, lobbying the state’s chief executive on Tri-Rail, Medicaid spending and efforts to boost the troubled Glades economy.

County Commissioner Steve Abrams, and vice-chairman of the Tri-Rail board, effectively asked the governor to leave the commuter rail alone. The Florida Department of Transportation has floated the idea of turning operation of the money-losing rail line over to a public-private partnership.

“I think the best solution is to have local control,” Abrams said, during a 20-minute meeting between county officials and Scott and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

Abrams, who said he’s a daily rider on Tri-Rail, also invited Scott to join him on his commute between Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.

Scott didn’t exactly agree, but he did ask, “Would they really let me run a train?”

For his part, Abrams, a lawyer, steered clear of promising to put Scott behind the wheel.

Margie Walden, executive vice-president of the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations, urged Scott to rethink the Legislature’s move last spring to seek federal approval for putting Florida’s 2.7 million Medicaid recipients into managed care programs. A five-county, HMO pilot program has been in place since 2006 in Broward and four other counties with mixed results, Waldren pointed out.

Walden said feared the move could hurt “super-seniors,” which she said are those over the age of 85 — a population that represents many of those who moved to south Palm Beach County as retirees in the 1980s, and have grown old there.

“We have very deep concerns,” Walden said.

Scott, though, didn’t sound likely to back away from the Medicaid rewrite — which still is awaiting approval from the Obama administration. Cost of the program, which is shared with the federal government, will absorb close to one-third of the $66.4 billion budget Scott has recommended for next year.

“The problem we have with Medicaid is that there just isn’t enough state money,” Scott said.

Shannon LaRocque, an assistant county administrator, also urged Scott to consider what the state could do to spur the economy in such communities as Belle Glade and Pahokee. Both communities are plagued by high unemployment — worsened by Scott’s closing last year of Glades Correctional Institution, the state’s oldest prison.

The development of a new, inland port on Lake Okeechobee remains a goal of county officials — although it hasn’t gotten much beyond the blueprint level.

“It’s going to bring great hope for jobs in that area,” LaRocque said.

 

Palm Beach County Democrats back bills to bar guns from public buildings

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Trying to fix what they call a glitch in a state gun law that went into effect in October, two Delray Beach Democrats are pushing a measure that would make it illegal to bring firearms into child care centers and public buildings.

Sen. Maria Sachs and Rep. Lori Berman filed bills that would change a new law approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott that went into effect in October. The new law, which includes civil penalties and removal from office for local officials who ignore it, forced state agencies, municipalities and counties such as Palm Beach to scrap hundreds of measures dealing with guns.

After the law went into effect, state police were also forced to reverse their policy and allow firearms to be brought into the Capitol although weapons are still barred from legislative committee meetings. The same law applies to local government meetings – guns are permitted in the building but not where officials are publicly gathered.

Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach

“The same rule should apply to the building where the meeting is taking place,” Berman said.

Under the new law, people are allowed to bring guns into child care centers but are still barred from bringing them into public schools or college and university campuses.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach

“If you’re not allowed to carry a gun into a school where children are five years old, I’m sure the law should extend to those who are four, or three or two,” Sachs, a former prosecutor, said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Palm Beach County Commission, which unanimously voted to support the bills (SB 1340, HB 1087), last month filed a lawsuit against Scott and others over the law, arguing that it is unconstitutional and that the sanctions “are simply a form of political bullying that serves no governmental purpose” and have a “chilling effect.”

Commissioner Shelley Vana, a former state representative, stood beside Berman and Sachs at a press conference announcing the proposals this morning.

She said their effort will make Floridians, especially children, safer and called it “another major step in rectifying a tremendous wrong and helping local governments keep their citizens safe.”

The measures are unlikely to gain traction in the GOP-dominated legislature, especially in an election year. The National Rifle Association pushed the new law last year.

But Sachs said the issue is one of public safety, not partisanship.

“I know Palm Beach is a pretty progressive county…but I know that every other county will follow us,” she said.

Palm Beach County Commission sues state over ‘political bullying’ gun law

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Palm Beach County Commission has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, the Florida House and the Florida Senate today over a gun law that that went into effect on Oct. 1. Local officials who violate the law could be removed from office and face a $5,000 fine.

The sanctions “are simply a form of political bullying that serves no governmental purpose” and have a “chilling effect,” the lawsuit reads.

The commission’s lawsuit complains that the new law, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers because it gives the governor the ability to remove local officials from office and strips local officials of immunity from lawsuits.

Under current law, the governor is only allowed to suspend local officials and the Florida Senate has the power to remove them or reinstate them.

“Threatened removal of individual commissioners in a matter that is consistent with the terms of the Florida Constitution is political overreaching and political bullying that serves no legitimate governmental purpose,” Amy Taylor Petrick, an attorney for the county, wrote in the lawsuit filed in the Palm Beach County Circuit Court today.

The lawsuit asks the court to find that the law is unconstitutional, stop the governor from being able to remove local officials from office and order that they can’t be fined for breaking the law.

Negron said the penalties are necessary because city and county commissioners have ignored a law that gives the legislature the discretion to regulate gun laws.

After the law went into effect, municipalities, counties and state agencies were forced to scrap hundreds of measures dealing with firearms and could no longer bar people from being guns into government buildings, including the state Capitol.

“Political disputes should be resolved in the elected government arena rather than in courtrooms. So we’ll see where it goes from here,” said Negron, who had not seen the lawsuit Tuesday evening.

Negron, R-Stuart, said he does not intend to file a bill to repeal the law during the legislative session that begins next month.

“I would consider that just as I have to follow federal law and I have to follow county laws and city laws when I’m in their counties and cities, they should follow the preemption of the state law then nobody has anything to worry about,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

Spokeswomen for Bondi and House Speaker Dean Cannon said their lawyers are reviewing the lawsuit.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, who pushed the bill, called the lawsuit un-American.

“They’re using taxpayer dollars to try to keep from being punished for violating the law? That’s exactly the American way, is it?” she said.

Bernard gets road warrior acclaim

Monday, September 19th, 2011 by John Kennedy

West Palm Beach Democrat Mack Bernard earned a shout-out Monday for being among only a handful of lawmakers attending all 26 public hearings this summer on redistricting.

The grueling tour spanned from the Pensacola to Key West, with stops rural and urban along the way. “We learned a lot. And saw a lot,” said Bernard, after the House Redistricting Subcommittee noted his wide-ranging schlep.

With lawmakers returning to the Capitol for a week’s worth of committee hearings, recapping those redistricting hearings consumed much of the House’s day.

When it comes to redrawing district lines for the 120 House seats, members of the public, community groups, and local elected officials often urged lawmakers to strive to keep municipalities whole, without dividing them across more than one district.

Boca Raton and West Palm Beach were among the communities making such pitches; of course, some areas — like rural Jackson County in North Florida — sought to be divided among two state House seats, in hopes of gaining more oomph in Tallahassee.

Singled out during the summer’s hearing in Boca Raton were a couple districts – held by Rep. Steve Perman, a Democrat and Bill Hager, a Republican. Perman’s District 78 was criticized as unwieldy, stretching from the Fort Pierce area to Boca Raton; Hager’s district should be confined to Palm Beach County, some of those testifying said, rather than stretching as it does now, into Broward.

For Senate districts, Palm Beach County commissioners this summer also urged lawmakers when they begin creating maps next year, at least keep the current compliment of three Senate districts with a majority of their population in the county — out of the six districts that now touch the county.

Scott uses Canada trade mission to tout company’s move to Boca Raton

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott turned back the clock a few months to claim a victory on his trade mission to Canada, joining with Garda Worldwide Security CEO Stephan Cretier to announce the company is moving its U.S. headquarters to Boca Raton.

Groundwork for the move began last year — well before Scott was elected — and took shape in January when Palm Beach County, Boca Raton and state officials offered the company a $1 million package of incentives. The company  will bring about 100 jobs from Pasadena, Cal., to Boca Raton, with salaries paying in the $65,000 range.

Although the $69.1 billion state budget signed by Scott last month is poised to cut thousands of jobs in state agencies, school districts and in the health and social services fields, the governor said he was eager to count Garda’s 100 positions toward his goal of creating 700,000 jobs in Florida over seven years.

In making the announcement from Montreal, Cretier said Scott called him on the governor’s fifth day on the job in January to say, the CEO recalled, “Hey, we want Garda in Florida.”

“I have been very impressed,” Cretier said, of Scott and the state’s courtship.

Scott, who said he plans to meet with 120 companies while in Canada, called Garda’s move a “win-win, for both Quebec and Florida.”

“I’m extremely pleased we were able to close the deal,” Scott said on Wednesday’s conference call with Cretier.

The incentives would be paid over six years, the county said. Garda has 45,000 employees around the world and sells a variety of security services, including armored vehicles to transport cash and background checks of potential employees.

Garda expects to have its 100 jobs filled by the end of 2013, and will receive its incentive dollars over six years, according to terms of the deal worked with the county. It chose Boca Raton over Wilmington, Del., and Broadview, Ill., which also had negotiated to land Garda’s American headquarters.

Cretier, a former baseball umpire, said he started the company 15 years ago with a $25,000 mortgage on his house. Last year, Garda reported $1.2 billion in revenue, Cretier said Wednesday. 

Garda’s interest in Palm Beach County coincided with a drop in the cost of doing business in the area. A report released earlier this year by The Boyd Co. of Princeton, N.J., says it’s cheaper to operate a corporate headquarters here than in most U.S. cities. Palm Beach County ranks 40th of 55 metro areas.

Scott jobs announcement from Montreal sounds like deja vu

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

 Gov. Rick Scott’s trade mission to Canada is lined up to tout its first big score Wednesday, but the announcement from French-speaking Montreal will sound like deja vu to many Palm Beach County residents.

Scott is expected to unveil that Montreal-based Garda Worldwide Security is moving its U.S. headquarters from California to Boca Raton, bringing with it about 100 jobs  by the end of 2013. The jobs will pay in the $65,000-salary range, county officials said.

Scott repeatedly says he’s all about “jobs, jobs, jobs.” But is the Garda announcement really “news, news, news?”

After all, Palm Beach County commissioners in January approved the county’s $210,000 share of an incentive package for Garda World Security Services. Boca Raton late last year approved its $210,000 portion of the package, while the state of Florida later OK’d $580,000 to bring the firm.

The County Commission’s action came a week after Scott took office, powered by his campaign promise to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. But county officials said talks with Garda began last summer, well before Scott was sworn in.

“There were a number of things the company had to do in preparation,” for Wednesday’s announcement, said Gary Hines of the Palm Beach County Business Development Board.

The incentives would be paid over six years, the county has said. Garda has 45,000 employees around the world and sells a variety of security services, including armored vehicles to transport cash and background checks of potential employees.

Garda’s interest in Palm Beach County follows a drop in the cost of doing business here. A report released earlier this year by a nationwide financial firm found the county’s costs ranked 40th of 55 metro areas.

In Palm Beach County, ‘most difficult budget year’ — for third straight time

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011 by George Bennett

Bob Weisman

“This is the most difficult budget year the county has ever faced.”
– Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman, June 6, 2011
– also June 8, 2010
–also May 28, 2009

Crafting a budget for the Palm Beach County government keeps getting more difficult.

Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman unveiled a spending plan for 2011-12 on Monday and called the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 “the most difficult budget year the county has ever faced.”

Weisman used the exact same language a year ago when he proposed a 2010-11 budget.

And he used the exact same sentence two years ago to describe the 2009-10 budget year.

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