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Human trafficking laws to be signed today

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 by Christine Stapleton

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign into law two bills today that will crack down on human trafficking of children for sex.

HB 989 makes sweeping changes to existing laws pertaining to the sexual abuse of children, especially children who are victims of human trafficking for prostitution. The bill, which picked up unanimous votes in the House and Senate, makes changes to the Florida Safe Harbor Act to better define sexual abuse and protect court records.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security

Source: U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security

The new law will also provide up to $3,000 in relocation assistance for human trafficking victims, stiffens the penalties for human trafficking of children for sex, eliminates the statute of limitations for human trafficking offenses and creates a new penalty for traffickers who permanently brand their victims.

HB 7141, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart,creates a framework for the assessment and treatment of prostitutes identified as victims of human trafficking. The bill, which also cleared both chambers with unanimous votes, authorizes the use of “safe houses”  and safe foster homes for sexually exploited children.

The bill creates the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking with the Dept. of Legal Affairs to better coordinate efforts of law enforcement and social service agencies and requires the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to study commercial sexual exploitation of children in Florida.

Most American victims of commercial sexual exploitation are runaway youths living on the street and become involved in prostitution to support themselves. The average age for girls is 12-14 and boys and transgender youth is 11-13, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

Pimp-contr0lled commercial sexual exploitation of children is often linked to escort and massage services, private dancing, major sports and recreational events, conventions and tourist destinations. About 20 percent of these children become part of crime networks, which transport the victims around the country on cars, buses, vans and trucks.

Although the data are not exact, the U.S. Dept. of State estimates as many as 27 million victims are being trafficked worldwide at any time. The department also estimates that there were  approximately40,000 victims of human trafficking in the United States in 2012. Florida is estimated to have the third highest rate of human trafficking in the United States, behind New York and California.






Supreme Court asked to overturn blind trust law used by Scott

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott has used blind trust since 2011

The Florida Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to overturn a state law used by Gov. Rick Scott to place his multimillion dollars in assets in a blind trust rather than submit to full financial disclosure.

The lawsuit was filed by Jim Apthorp, a former chief of staff to late Gov. Reubin Askew, instrumental in developing the state’s “Sunshine Amendment,” which included financial disclosure requirements for elected officials. Attorney in the case is Talbot ‘Sandy’ D’Alemberte, a former Florida State University president.

Scott won approval from the state’s Commission on Ethics in 2011 to put his holdings in a blind trust, steered by money managers independent of the governor. The state Legislature two years later approved a measure allowing such blind trusts to be used as a form of state-required, annual financial disclosure for elected officials.

“The Sunshine Amendment requires that things be revealed; blind trusts require that things be concealed,” Apthorp’s petition to the court says. “It would be absurd to conclude that the latter is an adequate substitute for the former.”

Scott has $72 million in investments managed in the blind trust by Hollow Brook Wealth Management, a New York investment advisor. Democrat Alex Sink also kept her investments in a blind trust during her term as Chief Financial Officer and when she ran against Scott for governor in 2010.

Among the organizations supporting the lawsuit are the media-backed First Amendment Foundation and the Florida Press Association.

While the state’s Commission on Ethics has issued two opinions in recent years defending blind trusts and lawmakers who advanced the 2013 legislation termed it a good government move, critics say it can lead to less information being made available to the public.

For example, while state law requires annual “full and public disclosure of financial interests” assets, liabilities or income sources of more than $1,000, blind trusts used by Florida politicians occasionally report such holdings in lump-sum amounts.

“The meaning of the Sunshine Amendment is clear: Officials and candidates must disclose their finances in full,” Apthorp said.


Scott says he’ll veto speed limit increase: “I don’t want anybody to be injured”

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Not so fast, Florida. Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that he’s going to veto a proposal that could increase speed limits in places to 75 mph.

“There’s times I’d like to go faster,” Scott acknowledged.

But he said he’s heard plenty of opposition from law enforcement officials, including Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Tod Cloud. The governor was urged against the legislation (SB 392) by Cloud at last week’s funeral for Trooper Chelsea Richard, killed a week earlier on Interstate 75 near Ocala while investigating an accident.

“I’m going to stand with law enforcement. I want everybody to stay safe. I don’t want anybody to be injured, so I’m going to veto that bill,” Scott said.

Scott said, “By doing this, I think we’re doing the right thing for our troopers, for law enforcement.”



Once cold-shouldered by Florida GOP, Rubio comes to party’s aid to ‘re-defeat Charlie Crist’

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 by George Bennett

Rubio outside his Palm Beach Gardens office in 2012.

When Marco Rubio began his bid for U.S. Senate in 2009, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer openly supported his friend, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who was the prohibitive favorite in the GOP primary.

Greer ended up resigning as party boss and going to prison on grand theft and money-laundering charges. Crist ended up falling behind Rubio, bolting the GOP and becoming an independent and then a Democrat who’s now pursuing his old job and leading Republican Gov. Rick Scott in many polls.

Now Rubio is going to bat for the Republican Party of Florida, making a fundraising pitch for the party’s efforts to hang onto the governor’s mansion.

Rubio’s e-mail begins with a veiled reference to the days when the party establishment wrote him off:

“Five years ago, Charlie Crist announced that he was running for the U.S. Senate. At the time, I was 20-30 points down in the polls. No one thought I had a chance. But with your support, things changed, and Floridians were exposed to the phony that is Charlie Crist.

“Today, I’m asking you to help the Republican Party of Florida re-defeat Charlie Crist.”

Abortion bills proof GOP wants to “turn the clock back” on women, Dems say

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy

A pair of abortion bills approved by the Republican-led Legislature and expected to be signed by Gov. Rick Scott are more evidence the party wants to “turn the clock back,” on women’s rights, three Democratic leaders said Tuesday.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was joined by Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana and Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief now running for Orange County mayor, in condemning the legislation (HB 59 and HB 1047).

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Wasserman Schultz called the measures “extremist” and examples of “tea party-infused legislation.”

Berman said the legislation was unnecessary. “Women make decisions to terminate pregnancies for a variety of reasons, and never are these decisions done lightly,” she said.

The Democrats, though, said they held little hope that Scott would veto the legislation, which passed the Legislature on mostly party-line votes.

One bill (HB 59) would allow separate criminal charges for the death of a fetus no matter what its stage of development was when a crime was committed against its mother. The other measure (CS/HB 1047) could effectively reduce the time period that a woman could legally have a late-term abortion by several weeks.

Rep. Lori Berman

Republican lawmakers during debate this spring called the bills “common sense” measures.

The legislation setting tougher penalties for harming a fetus was dubbed the “Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” and stems from a Tampa case where a young woman six weeks pregnant, Remi Lee, was given pills by a former boyfriend, causing her to abort.

The bill would expand a law that already allows a separate manslaughter charge for a fetus that could survive outside the womb.

It also would toughen penalties for anyone convicted of a crime resulting in the death of a fetus, allowing murder charges to be leveled in cases where a fetus was considered viable, and lesser criminal charges in other cases.

The other bill would require a doctor to examine a woman wanting an abortion and refuse to perform the procedure if fetal viability was determined. Supporters of the bill have said that could prevent abortions around the 20th week of pregnancy, whereas Florida law currently bars most abortions following the 24th week.

Scott signs package of tax cuts, rounding out election-year, $500M-plus giveback

Monday, May 12th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Monday a $121 million package of election-year tax cuts — including breaks on everything from hurricane- and back-to-school supplies to kids’ bike helmets and car seats.

The signing — at the state’s annual Hurricane Conference in Orlando — brings to more than $500 million the total on the tax-and-fee reductions approved by lawmakers. The Republican governor earlier put the give-backs on the top of his legislative wish list.

“This year we worked to promote a $500 million reduction in taxes and fees because Florida families should keep more of the money they earn,” Scott said.

Scott already signed into law last month a $395 million rollback of motorist fees approved in 2009 under former Gov. Charlie Crist. The former Republican governor now is challenging Scott as a Democrat, giving that reduction some extra political mileage.

Near the land where dreams come true, CannaBiz Day to take place

Monday, May 12th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Steve DeAngelo, medical marijuana leader, will speak at CannaBiz Day in Orlando

With the Republican-led Legislature recently approving a measure legalizing a strain of medical marijuana in Florida, there is certainly something different in the political air.

Next month, the business-side of the marijuana industry will gather in Orlando for the state’s first CannaBiz Day — June 6.

Organizers said the event at the Royal Caribe Hotel, just down the road from DisneyWorld, will feature business owners, legal, real estate and finance professionals with real-world cannabis business experience. Also expected to attend are activists and policy makers involved in Florida’s marijuana movement.

Keynote speaker is Steve DeAngelo, who operates Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Cal. Harborside was a pioneer in treating children suffering from severe epilepsy with the non-euphoric marijuana oil now dubbed Charlotte’s Web, which Florida lawmakers have approved for epilepsy and cancer victims.

Gov. Rick Scott has said he will sign the legislation into law.

Much of the one-day session, though, also will focus on the more sweeping medical marijuana initiative that is set to go on Florida’s November ballot as a constitutional amendment. That measure could broaden the use and cultivation of medical marijuana in the state.


On speed limit bill, all roads lead to Gov. Rick Scott

Saturday, May 10th, 2014 by John Kennedy

One of the most contested battles of the legislative session continues to divide lawmakers, with a proposal to increase state speed limits now fueling more wrangling focused on Gov. Rick Scott.

The clash over “how fast is safe” has crossed the median strip of Florida politics. Democratic and Republican legislators are scattered on both sides of the issue that Scott is expected to settle in coming weeks, either by allowing the legislation (CS/SB 392) to become law or vetoing it.

So far, he’s given no hints. But both sides are working him hard.

Two of the leading players are a pair of Palm Beach County Democrats whose districts are separated by less than 20 miles — but whose views are light years apart on the subject.

Rep. Irv Slosberg

“If you want road safety, this is a no-brainer. He’s got to veto it,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who has pushed for stricter seat-belt and texting-while-driving laws during his 10 years in the House.

But Sen. Jeff Clemens, a sponsor of the measure, says it would not heighten risks on Florida roadways.

“When you take a step back from the emotions of this issue, you realize that we’re talking about a difference of 5   mph — maybe,” said Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “That’s entirely reasonable.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens

Full story here:

Scott says Crist will be Castro ‘puppet’ if he visits Cuba

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 by George Bennett

Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera campaigning today in Greenacres.

GREENACRES — Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera blasted Democrat Charlie Crist for considering a trip to Cuba this summer.

“It’s sort of laughable. He’s going to go down there and help promote the Castro regime,” Scott told reporters after a campaign appearance at AutoNation Chevrolet to promote cuts in motor vehicle fees and other taxes.

“He’s just going to be a puppet for the Castro regime and every dollar he spends down there is going to help them oppress their people,” Scott said.

Crist’s interest in visiting the communist island was first reported by The Tampa Bay Times.

“The embargo has done nothing in fifty years to change the regime in Cuba or end the suffering of the Cuban people,” Crist campaign spokesman Kevin Cate said. “Gov. Crist is exploring every opportunity to help bring economic freedom and democracy to the people of Cuba.”

Lopez-Cantera said his family “lost everything” after Castro came to power and his grandmother’s brothers were imprisoned by Castro.

“Charlie’s been a Republican and an independent and a Democrat,” Lopez-Cantera said. “I don’t know, maybe he’s going down there to explore becoming a communist.”

Does GOP help Scott’s re-elect by adding new pages to playbook? (w/vid of session’s last night)

Sunday, May 4th, 2014 by John Kennedy

After years of budget-cutting and strict social policies, Florida’s ruling Republicans worked to soften some edges during the just-completed legislative session with steps that appear designed to bolster Gov. Rick Scott for a bruising re-election battle.

The $77.1 billion state budget approved by lawmakers late Friday is the largest in state history, filled with increased dollars for schools and environmental programs, and chocked with hometown spending on social services, museums, theaters and local government projects.

Full story here:

Record big budget could make big target for election-year Scott

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Florida Legislature approved a strain of medical marijuana, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and the last piece of a $500 million package of tax-and-fee cuts Friday as it skidded toward the finish line of the 2014 session.

Following a frenzied last day of deal-making between the chambers, the House and Senate then both approved the $77.1 billion budget – the largest in state history — in lopsided votes after 10 p.m. and adjourned at 10:40 p.m.

The House voted 102-15 in favor of the budget and sent to the Senate, which approved it unanimously.

“I hope you’re as proud about this budget as I am,” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla. “I’m going to go home and brag about what we’ve done.”

House Democrats, however, said the spending plan shorted school funding and failed to help those without health insurance.

“There’s an opportunity to be great,” said House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston. “This doesn’t do it.”

Full story here:

Low-THC medical marijuana approved by Senate

Friday, May 2nd, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Florida Senate voted 30-9 Friday to allow doctors to prescribe low-THC medical marijuana to patients suffering from cancer or epilepsy.

The move came after Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, beat back efforts to open marijuana production to more growers in Florida. Bradley warned that the late-hour amendment could endanger the legislation, which cleared the House Thursday.

“We’re at day 60,” Bradley said of the two-month session. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Gov. Rick Scott has said that he would sign the legislation into law.

The measure would allow doctors to prescribe a liquid form of marijuana rich in cannabidiol, or CBD. The pot is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound with produces a high.

Under the bill, the state’s Department of Health would establish four dispensing organizations in Florida to dispense the low-THC pot dubbed Charlotte’s Web.

The department also would create a DOH Office of Compassionate Use, which would compile a registry of patients who doctors consider eligible for being treated with the marijuana strain.

Beginning in January 2015, doctors treating patients for cancer or “severe and persistent muscle spasms” associated with epilepsy could prescribe the low-THC marijuana. Only residents of Florida could obtain a prescription, under the bill.

House OK’s instate tuition for immigrants, sending it to Scott

Friday, May 2nd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Children of undocumented immigrants would be eligible for instate tuition in Florida under legislation that sailed Friday through the House on an 84-32 vote.

The legislation cleared the Senate a day earlier. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who promised to sign it into law this election year.

House Republicans noted the legislation will reduce tuition for all students.

The measure (CS/HB 851) eliminates a provision in law that allowed Florida’s 12 public universities to hike tuition by as much as 15 percent annually. Instead, only Florida State University and the University of Florida will be able to seek tuition boosts higher than what’s granted by the Legislature — and then only as much as 6 percent-a-year.

But the instate provision for immigrants has been the chief focus of the legislation.

“I hope this signals an end to the anti-immigrant extremism that has prevailed in both of these houses for over a decade,” said Rep. Jose Rodriguez, D-Miami.

The legislation allows children of undocumented immigrants to qualify for instate tuition if they attended high school for three years in Florida.  Average non-resident tuition costs $21,434 annually, compared with the average $6,318
in-state fee.

Parasailing regulations headed to Gov. Rick Scott

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by John Kennedy

Commercial parasailing operations, involved in several tragedies along Florida waterways in recent years, would gain state regulation for the first time under legislation headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, sponsored the measure (SB 320) approved 38-0 Thursday in the Senate. It also includes new restrictions on kite-boarding near airport runways, but the focus in on parasailing.

“I don’t care what else is on it, as long as we get this through,” said Sachs, who has struggled for several years to tighten oversight of parasail operations.

There have been 21 parasailing accidents in Florida from 2001 through last October, resulting in 23 injuries and six fatalities, according to state records.

In 10 of the accidents, high winds or gusts were found to be a contributing factor. In six of those 10 accidents, there was also equipment failure. The other 11 accidents reportedly were caused by a variety of factors, including operator error and equipment malfunctions.


Charlotte’s Web marijuana strain OK’d by House by epilepsy, cancer patients

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by John Kennedy

Following emotional debate, the House voted 111-7 to approve legislation Thursday authorizing the use of a marijuana strain for treating patients with cancer and severe epilepsy.

The Senate is poised Friday — the two-month session’s final scheduled day — to endorse the move. The House sponsor of the measure (CS/SB 1030) Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, urged parents of children with Dravet Syndrome, looking on in the audience, to now work on Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott’s surgeon general, John Armstrong, has cautioned against the legislation saying the effects of the so-called Charlotte’s Web strain is untested.

“Get eyeball-to-eyeball with him,” Gaetz said on the House floor. “Move his heart the way you’ve moved ours.”

Florida GOP Chairman Lenny Curry to resign, pursue Jacksonville mayor bid

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by George Bennett

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry will step down at the end of this month to pursue a 2015 campaign for mayor of Jacksonville, The Florida Times-Union reported and Florida Republican National Committeeman Peter Feaman confirmed.

The party will select a new chairman May 31 at its quarterly meeting in Tampa, Feaman said today.

Curry’s departure comes while RPOF plays a key role in Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election efforts in one of the nation’s hottest governor’s races. Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who was governor immediately before Scott, leads Scott in most polls.

Medicaid street theater plea: ‘We need three people to dress in black as grim reapers…’

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by George Bennett

Democratic activist Tom Conboy

Dan Liftman, whose day job is as a staffer for Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, holds "Public Enemies" sign depicting Gov. Rick Scott, Vladimir Putin, Bashar Assad and Kim Jong-un.

A call for three people with Grim Reaper costumes was answered and about a dozen demonstrators blasted Republicans and called for expanding Medicaid on a sidewalk outside The Palm Beach Post offices on Wednesday.

“We need three people to dress in black as grim reapers, street clothes for die-in, or scrubs for nurses. Please let us know if you have a grim reaper costume…!” one of the event’s organizers, Democratic activist Hillary Keyes, posted on Facebook earlier in the week.

The Grim Reapers wore signs with the names of Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford and state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton.

Dan Liftman, whose day job is as a staffer for U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, carried a sign that said “Public Enemies” and included pictures of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar Assad, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Scott.

Speed limit bill squeaks through House, but opponents urge Scott to hit brakes

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Amid emotional debate, the Florida House approved a measure that could lead to higher speed limits on some stretches of state interstates and smaller roads.

The House voted 58-56 on the legislation (CS/SB 392) which authorizes the Florida Department of Transportation to add 5 mph to some limits on rural and lightly traveled roadways. The bill, whose sponsors include Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for review.

“We are simply saying (to FDOT) you can increase the limit after you do your engineering studies,” said Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres.

But Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a funeral director who also acknowledged that he has frequently been ticketed for speeding, argued against the move.

“I can’t do something in good conscience that is going to cost lives,” Baxley said.

The legislation would let FDOT study which stretches of highway could be boosted by 5 mph from the current 70 mph limit set in 1996.

Clemens has said he doesn’t envision speed limits rising on I-95 in South Florida. But rural and more isolated stretches of Florida’s interstates could qualify, he said.

The legislation also is aimed at allowing limits on some divided highways rise from 65 mph to 70 mph and other state roads now subject to 60 mph limits to also rise by 5 mph.

There are 16 states with speed limits of 75 mph or higher, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Legislation heading to Scott says goodbye to FCAT

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Beating back a push by Democrats seeking a longer delay, the Republican-ruled House approved a measure Wednesday revamping the state’s school-grading system and ushering in a replacement for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The so-far unnamed new test is being developed by the private firm, American Institutes for Research. But it is scheduled to replace the FCAT in the coming year and incorporate provisions of the Common Core Standards, the classroom system being used by Florida and more than 40 other states.

The legislation (CS/SB 1642) was approved 76-42 in a partyline vote. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who is almost certain to sign it into law.

The bill would erase penalties schools could currently face for any ‘F’ or ‘D’ grades earned in the 2014-15 school year. But Democrats, backed by school superintendents from Palm Beach and many other districts, had pushed for a three-year pause in testing penalties.

Florida’s problems with FCAT testing, which included online interruptions that affected Palm Beach and other counties earlier this month, fueled Democratic concerns.

“Slow down the process so we get it right,” said Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa. “Instead, we’re rushing.”

Republicans, however, said it was important to continue moving forward in student assessment. The one-year penalty pause should be enough, they assured.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, an advocate of the Common Core, is among the groups supporting the legislation.

Crist 48, Scott 38 in new Q poll with Dem-leaning sample

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 by George Bennett


Despite a TV ad blitz by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Democrat Charlie Crist continues to hold a big lead in a new Quinnipiac University poll that includes a Democrat-leaning voter sample sure to raise Republican hackles.

Crist gets 48 percent and Scott gets 38 percent in the new poll. That’s basically the same lead Crist held in Quinnipiac’s poll three months ago, before Scott and his allies poured $6 million or more into TV ads promoting the incumbent and trashing Crist.

The poll also finds Floridians supporting same-sex marriage by a 56-to-39 percent margin. That’s a dramatic turnaround from 2008, when 61.9 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The new poll of 1,413 registered Florida voters was conducted April 23 – 28 and has a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points. Quinnipiac’s longstanding practice is to ask voters which party they identify with, rather than their actual registration, with the argument that self-identification is a better gauge of voter mood. The latest sample found 31 percent saying they consider themselves Democrats, 25 percent Republicans, 34 percent independent and 11 percent identifying with other parties or saying they didn’t know.

During the 2010 midterm elections, exit polls found 36 percent of Florida voters who cast ballots identifying as Democrats, 36 percent as Republicans and 29 percent as independents. In actual statewide registrations, Democrats have a 39.2-to-35.1 percent advantage over Republicans.

Other highlights of the new Quinnipiac poll after the jump…


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