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Lawsuit filed to overturn Florida’s same-sex marriage ban

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 by John Kennedy

A half-dozen gay and lesbian couples backed by the Equality Florida Institute filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Miami looking to overturn the state’s 2008 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit contends that the state prohibition violates the U.S. Constitution by denying same-sex couples the same legal protections given heterosexual couples.

“These couples have been embraced by their families and communities, but every day, Florida laws are denying them the protections and dignity that every family deserves,” said Nadine Smith, chief executive officer of the Equality Florida Institute. “These harmful laws are outdated and out of step.”

The lawsuit has been brewing since last summer, when U.S. Supreme Court rulings struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and a same-sex prohibition in California. The rulings have clouded the future of same-sex marriage bans across the country. Utah and Oklahoma recently lifted marriage bans based on the high court ruling, although both actions are being appealed.

In Florida, a ballot proposal was floated earlier this year by an organization called Equal Marriage Florida. But it seems to have languished and the court challenge has been advanced by advocates as the swiftest way to overturn the law.

Democratic candidate for governor, Charlie Crist, wasted no time weighing in on the lawsuit.

“No one would want to be told they can’t marry the person they love,” Crist said. “It’s an issue of fairness and I’m proud to support it.”

Following last summer’s Supreme Court action, Gov. Rick Scott said that the 2008 same-sex marriage ban approved by 62 percent of voters remains “the law of the land.”

He added, ““Look, I’ve been married since I was 19. I believe in traditional marriage.”

The Florida Family Policy Council, which helped lead the ballot campaign that led to the 2008 statewide ban, said it would “vigorously defend” the law.

“Sixty two percent of Floridians have decisively spoken on this issue,” said FFPC President John Stemberger, citing the percent of Florida voters who backed the 2008 initiative. “Gay activists cannot win in the marketplace, so they have resorted to trying to find renegade courts who have little respect for the rule of law to create social change that would never happen through the people or their elected representatives.”



Pafford and NAACP blast Scott for voter purge

Monday, January 13th, 2014 by John Kennedy


The latest attempt by the Gov. Rick Scott administration to remove ineligible voters from the rolls drew heat Monday from the Florida NAACP and incoming House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach.

In a state where Democrats still hold a significant voter edge over ruling Republicans, the governor up for re-election this fall has been focused on the voter rolls since 2012. Earlier attempts to purge voter rolls have been met with lawsuits and opposition from election supervisors, but the governor ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner in August to renew the effort.

Detzner announced last month that the state was poised to move forward in coming weeks with a review based on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements.

Advocates on Monday said they have concerns about the accuracy of the database, saying it may not accurately reflect the voting elibility of many recent immigrants. NAACP officials said the move also looks designed to remove black voters from the rolls.

“It was a conspiracy then (in 2012) and it’s a conspiracy now,” said Dale Landry, a vice president with the Florida NAACP, saying the state wasted more than $100,000 on its initial attempt.

“We are doing the same thing. People need to get angry,” he added.

Pafford said the effort by the Scott administration seems “cyclical, running parallel to election cycles.”

Scott ordered Detzner to renew scrutiny of state voter rolls after the U.S. Supreme Court last summer overturned portions of the Voting Rights Act, freeing Florida and most southern states of federal oversight of their election laws.

Election Supervisors said the SAVE system is more reliable. Detzner also has said that any final decisions about a voter’s eligibility will rest with county supervisors, with anyone targeted for possible removal having plenty of opportunities to appeal a ruling.

Detzner spokeswoman Brittany Lesser said, ““Secretary Detzner worked with the Legislature last year to make effective changes to elections laws to give Florida’s eligible voters more access including increasing voting hours and expanding early voting locations. These changes will increase voter opportunities because his priority is for 100 percent of voters to vote and that zero percent fraud is found in elections. Integrity of the voter rolls must be upheld to ensure that elections are accurate, efficient and fair.”

Activists urge Scott to drop voter roll review

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Voter rights organizations Tuesday urged Gov. Rick Scott to drop his latest attempt to remove noncitizens from Florida voter rolls, repeating their allegation that the database being used is flawed.

Scott in August ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner to renew scrutiny of state voter rolls after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this summer overturned portions of the Voting Rights Act, freeing Florida and most southern states of federal oversight of their election laws.

Scott intends to use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAVE list — the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements — list to conduct the review. Many county election supervisors said they have concerns about the accuracy of the database, saying it may not accurately reflect the voting elibility of many recent immigrants.

The Advancement Project, Florida New Majority and several immigrant rights associations are urging supervisors to refuse the state’s push for a review. They say the state’s effort could add new burdens mostly to minorities forced to present documents proving their eligibility to vote.

“Once (voting rights) are earned, people should not have to re-earn it over and over again,” said Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigration Coalition, who said the review is politically motivated.



Advocates blast Scott for fanning fear of ObamaCare

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 by John Kennedy

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act pushed back Wednesday against Gov. Rick Scott and Republican Cabinet members who a day earlier raised concerns that the privacy of uninsured Floridians could be compromised when they sign-up this fall for health coverage.

“The governor of a state with more than 4 million uninsured should not be discouraging people from getting care,” said Monica Russo of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is assisting non-profit organizations contracted with federal authorities as “navigators” in getting the word out about enrollment beginning Oct. 1.

Nick Duran, the Florida director for Enroll America, which is leading the effort, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday that surveys show 55 percent of uninsured Floridians are unaware of the enrollment requirement.

Meanwhile, the Republican-ruled Florida state government has taken few steps to advance enrollment, advocates said. Florida had earlier spearheaded an unsuccessful legal campaign by two-dozen states looking to block the Affordable Care Act from taking effect.

“We have not had much help from the state, to tell you the truth,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a statewide health advocacy organization that will receive federal grant money as a navigator. “It’d be helpful if they got the word out.”

By contrast, Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater raised concerns at a Cabinet meeting in Miami on Tuesday, warning that the enrollment process could lead to privacy violations and identity theft affecting many low-income Floridians.

Bondi also is among 13 Republican state attorneys general who last week demanded that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius answer questions about the navigator program.

“Federal safeguards that should be in place to protect our privacy are behind schedule and inadequate,” Scott said. “It is unclear how the federal government will protect personal information from being stolen or otherwise misused.”

Advocates say that many of the nonprofits doing the outreach already contract with the state for various programs. State legislators during the 2013 session approved a health law (SB 1842) that requires navigators hired in Florida to be registered with the state, be U.S. citizens or legal aliens and undergo background checks by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Former Heat star Tim Hardaway to be first signer of same-sex measure

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Former NBA star Tim Hardaway tonight is scheduled to become the first petition-signer on the Equal Marriage Florida effort to put a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing same-sex marriage in the state on the November 2014 ballot.

Hardaway, a member of some great Miami Heat teams in the 1990s, plans to sign the petition at 7 p.m. at Scully’s Tavern in the Kendall area. The campaign must gather more than 680,000 signatures from registered voters to have a chance to get on the ballot.

Signing the same-sex marriage measure comes only a couple months after Hardaway reached out and endorsed NBA player Jason Collins for coming out as the first openly gay athlete in any of the major professional leagues. Hardaway’s son, Tim, Jr., also has just been drafted by the New York Knicks.

Hardaway in 2007 made news for telling a Miami radio interviewer that he didn’t like gay people and acknowledged he was homophobic. After enduring a host of financial sanctions and being barred from activities at an NBA All-Star weekend, Hardaway began a long road toward tolerance, telling another interviewer about the incident, ”I’m going to do whatever I can to correct it.”

Equal Marriage Florida would define marriage as a “union of two persons” and would erase a gay marriage ban approved by voters only five years ago.

The effort was launched just days before U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and effectively made California the 13th state in the nation where same-sex couples can legally marry.

Court’s same-sex marriage rulings heighten focus on Florida ban

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

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.”


Florida, a states’ rights leader in health care, silent in Montana rights’ case

Monday, June 25th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Although states’ rights is a key part of the challenge raised by Florida and 25 other states to the federal health care overhaul, a similar argument failed to sway a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices ruling Monday in a Montana campaign finance case.

The argument already failed to move Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who declined a request  to have Florida join 22 states and the District of Columbia siding with Montana in urging  justices to allow it to structure its own unique finance law.

Florida, however, is a lead plaintiff in the effort to overturn the federal health care law, on similar states’ rights grounds.

Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, was among those urging Bondi to intercede in the Montana case, especially given Florida’s aggressive defense of states’ rights in health care.

“I was surprised Florida isn’t on that list,” Clemens wrote Bondi in a letter last month. “If corporate interests are allowed to use the Citizens United decision to encourage corporate corruption and patronage at the state level, the likely outcome is that average, everyday citizens will lose their voice.”

 Bondi’s own website says the state’s motive for challenging the federal health care law as unconstitutional is because the measure exceeds federal authority and infringes on individual liberty and states’ rights. Her office has said it did not see a need for Florida to intervene in the Montana case. 

Justices ruled 5-4 Monday that Montana could not ignore the 2010 Citizens United decision, which ruled that the First Amendment bars limiting independent political spending by corporations and unions. The court ruled such expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”





U.S. Supreme Court strikes down key portions of Arizona immigration law

Monday, June 25th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Supreme Court struck down key portions of Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration law, handing a partial victory to President Obama’s administration.

The majority ruled that that giving state or local law enforcement the power to detain and question people could result in “unnecessary harassment.”

The Arizona law (SB 1070) would have given law enforcement the power to detain and question the immigration status of someone they believed was in the country illegally. The court ruled that immigration matters are strictly a federal function. The Arizona law would have required police to check the immigration status of anyone who is arrested.

“Under state law, officers who believe an alien is removable by reason of some ‘public offense’ would have the power to conduct an arrest on that basis regardless of whether a federal warrant has issued or the alien is likely to escape,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 5-3 opinion.

“This would allow the State to achieve its own immigration policy. The result could be unnecessary harassment of some aliens (for instance, a veteran, college student, or someone assisting with a criminal investigation) whom federal officials determine should not be removed,” the ruling reads. “This is not the system Congress created.”

The court did uphold one of the most controversial portions of the law, that requires local law enforcement officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the country illegally.

The justices also said that provision, however, could be subject to additional legal challenges. Civil liberties groups are challenging that portion of the law in Arizona courts, arguing that it could lead to racial profiling.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined Kennedy and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor in the majority. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Elena Kagan, who served as Obama’s solicitor general, had recused herself from the Arizona case.

Scott says state will comply with justices’ health care ruling

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 by John Kennedy

With Florida leading a multi-state challenge to the federal health care overhaul, Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that he will “comply with the law,” if it is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a conference call organized by opponents of the Affordable Care Act, Scott essentially echoed statements he’s made for months — even as a ruling by justices is expected within the next 10 days.

“If it’s the law of the land, then we’re going to comply,” Scott said. “But I’m very optimistic that the Supreme Court will either declare it unconstitutional or it will be repealed.”

Scott acknowledged that a congressional repeal could happen only if presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney defeats the health care overhaul’s main champion, President Obama, this fall. Similarly, Scott said states should be given authority by the federal government to design their own Medicaid programs — which he said would reduce costs.

Scott sees a Romney presidency has central to that wish coming true.

“Whether we get a bloc grant or not is going to be dependent on the national election,” Scott said.

Before he became governor, Scott, a multimillionaire health care entrepreneur, made his first foray into politics by founding Conservatives for Patients’ Rights. The political committee ran ads in 2009 opposing President Obama’s health care plans.

As governor, Scott told the Palm Beach Post last year that the measure approved by Congress and signed into law by the president in 2010 is “not the law of the land.” While he said the state would meet its obligations if the Supreme Court upholds the law, he added: “I don’t believe it will ever be the law of the land.”

Just weeks after he was sworn in, Scott halted plans put in place by his predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist, for health insurance exchanges, a central part of the federal plan.

The state also has turned back grants to allow long-term care patients to return home, to reduce child abuse through in-home counseling and to educate teenagers on preventing pregnancy.

In this spring’s legislative session, Scott and Republican legislative leaders refused $438.5 million in federal money aimed at increasing Medicaid payments to doctors.

Spending by political committees spikes in Florida, new study shows

Friday, November 18th, 2011 by John Kennedy

A new report from a nationwide campaign watchdog shows spending by shadowy independent political organizations has spiked in Florida, with one Tampa address serving as home for many of these cash machines.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics found that political spending by electioneering communications organizations (ECOs), sometimes dubbed 527 committees, has climbed 53 percent from 2006 to 2010 in Florida.

During last year’s elections, $48.2 million was spent by groups, with the largest being Gov. Rick Scott’s own Let’s Get to Work ECO, which poured $17.5 million into helping him defeat Democrat Alex Sink.

In federal races, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in the Citizens United case helped kick the door open for corporate spending. Florida already allowed business interests to contribute in state races, so the ruling hasn’t directly affected elections for the Legislature, governor or Cabinet posts.

But Florida corporations are increasingly anteing up big bets in state races — behind the cover of vaguely named organizations, the institute report shows.

“Nearly 300 independent spending committees have been created since 2005, with innocuous names like ‘Let’s Get To Work,’ ‘Florida’s Working Families,’ and ‘Floridians for Truth and Integrity in Government,’ with little or no identifying information,” according to the report. “Yet many of these committees are registered to a small group of people. Of the $96.8 million of total independent spending during the study period, $38.8 million, 40 percent of the overall total, was routed through ECOs controlled by just four individuals.”

Nancy Watkins is one of those guiding the cash. The Tampa accountant’s office at 610 South Boulevard is the address for 88 different political committees.

The institute’s report is here:

Bondi praises justices for taking up federal health care

Monday, November 14th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Critics of the federal health care overhaul supported by President Obama weighed-in Monday, praising the U.S. Supreme Court for agreeing to review the constitutionality of the sweeping measure.

Florida is among 26 states challenging the law, which the National Federation of Independent Business also wants to have overturned.

“I am pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the States’ challenge to the federal health care law,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has continued to spearhead a lawsuit first brought by her predecessor, fellow Republican Bill McCollum. ”Throughout this case, we have urged swift judicial resolution because of the unprecedented threat that the individual mandate poses to the liberty of Americans simply because they live in this country.”

Justices plan to hear arguments in March.  The dispute turns on Congress’s constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.

Timing of the case only reaffirms that the health care overhaul will continue as a central theme of the 2012 presidential election.

 ”We are hopeful that by June 2012 we will have a decision that protects Americans’ and individuals’ liberties and limits the federal government’s power,” Bondi added. “We look forward to presenting oral argument and defending our position that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, that the entire law fails if one part fails, that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply, and that Medicaid’s expansion is unlawfully coercive.”

 The Obama administration, which earlier asked the Supreme Court to review the legal challenges, said it’s confident the overhaul will be upheld as constitutional.

“ Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, one million more young Americans have health insurance, women are getting mammograms and preventive services without paying an extra penny out of their own pocket and insurance companies have to spend more of your premiums on health care instead of advertising and bonuses,” said Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer. “We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.


Senate looks to maintain minority districts as map-making advances

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Maintaining the current number of districts electing black and Hispanic lawmakers to the House, Senate and Congress from Florida was named the top priority Tuesday of the Senate’s Reapportionment Committee, a potentially powerful political and legal stance which could blunt Democratic efforts to regain seats.

Backing a motion by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a former Florida Republican Party chairman, the GOP-dominated panel agreed to set priorities, or “tiers” as some lawmakers described, as they begin redrawing the state’s political boundaries.

The once-a-decade process has become complicated after voters last fall approved a pair of constitutional amendments which require that lawmakers not work to protect incumbents or party influence when drawing the lines.

Safeguarding seats that have elected black or Hispanic lawmakers, however, has become another story.

The federal Voting Rights Act requires that lawmakers not take steps that could prevent minorities from electing a candidate of their choice. The Reapportionment Committee interpreted that provision Tuesday as urging they start map-drawing by reinstating districts currently held by minority lawmakers.

“Racial protection is clearly paramount,” Thrasher told the committee.

On the tiers outlined by the panel, creation of districts that are compact or respect geographic boudaries — such as city or county lines — are lesser priorities, although they were central parts of the voter-approved amendments.

“Compactness will probably be decided by the courts, because we have no standard definition,” said Committee Chairman Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Indeed, there are few definitions guiding redistricting — only past court opinions, beginning with those stemming from the U.S. Supreme Court. But Tuesday’s determination by the committee could prove an influential milepost as lawmakers engage in line-drawing, which is expected to dominate next spring’s legislative session.

The campaign resulting in voter approval of Amendments 5 and 6 last fall was financed by Democratic-leaning organizations, individuals and unions. The new standards are aimed at discouraging the formation of multi-county districts, including those with voting populations roughly 50 percent black, who usually vote Democratic.

Ruling Republicans have helped their own numbers with these minority-access districts, since concentrating Democratic voters often allows the GOP to  win neighboring districts. With the committee agreeing to use current minority districts as the starting-off point for map-building, Republican dominance could endure — even with Democrats holding a 600,000 statewide voter edge.

Democrats on the committee offered little resistence Tuesday. Only Rep. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, challenged the committee’s theme, pointing out that voters in Jacksonville recently elected a black mayor, Alvin Brown, who had support from all corners of the community.

Braynon said voting performance — not just the raw numbers of voting population — is what the committee should consider.


Federal court tosses Virginia federal health care lawsuits

Thursday, September 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A federal appeals court tossed two Virginia lawsuits Thursday challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law’s insurance requirement, also known as the individual mandate.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed both lawsuits, ruling that neither the state’s attorney general Ken Cuccinelli or Liberty University had standing to challenge the law. The three-judge panel’s decision overturned a lower-court ruling invalidating the insurance requirement.

Thursday’s ruling now leaves an even score on other appellate rulings on the health care law. First, a three-judge panel in Cincinnati ruled in favor of the law. A more recent decision last month from an Atlanta three-judge panel ruling in a multi-state lawsuit headed by Florida that the individual mandate portion of the law was unconstitutional but left the remainder of the law intact.

And it heightens the importance of the Florida lawsuit, which observers say will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Rick Scott, who made his fortune in the health care industry, launched his foray into politics more than two years ago with an effort to keep the proposed health care reforms from going into law. Scott is an outspoken critic of the law and once said fighting against it was one of the reasons he ran for governor.

Yesterday, lawmakers approved a request from Scott’s administration for a $3.4 billion grant drawn from the federal Affordable Care Act. The Legislative Budget Commission signed off on taking the cash to provide home visitation services to at-risk families.

Bondi asks U.S. Supreme Court to re-order execution

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to override the Florida Supreme Court’s stay on the execution of convicted cop killer Manuel Valle.

Valle’s death warrant, the first and only signed by Gov. Rick Scott since taking office in January, set his execution by lethal injection for Aug. 2. But the Florida Supreme Court yesterday put the execution off for a month until a hearing on a controversial new drug is held.

In a 4-3 ruling, the divided Florida high court ordered a Miami judge to hold a hearing on the new drug, pentobarbital sodium, an anesthetic Department of Corrections officials decided in June to replace sodium thiopental. Sodium thiopental’s manufacturer stopped making the drug early this year, leaving corrections officials in states like Florida scrambling to find a substitute.

But Lundbeck Inc., the Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, recently announced that the drug is untested and unsafe for use in lethal injections. Lundbeck stopped selling the drug to distributors who intended to resell it for use in executions.

In her 12-page filing Tuesday, Bondi argued that the Florida justices “improperly granted the stay” because Valle’s lawyers failed to demonstrate that he would be subjected to a “substantial risk of harm,” the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in determining cruel or unusual punishment in a case called Baze v. Rees, known as “Baze.”

“In Baze, a plurality of this Court held that an inmate was required to show that the protocol created a ‘substantial risk of serious harm’ that was ‘objectively intolerable’ to demonstrate that a lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional,’” Bondi’s motion said. “It noted that the mere fact that an execution method ‘may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death’ did not meet this standard.”

Bondi also disputed the testimony of Valle’s expert witness, pediatric anesthesiologist David Waisel. A lower court had rejected Waisel’s testimony but the state Supreme Court ordered that it be taken into consideration in the hearing on the new drug. Part of Waisel’s testimony included a description of what may have been a botched execution in Georgia using pentobarbital, also known as Nembutal.

“Since the claim has already been rejected in Georgia and Florida’s protocol contains similar provisions for a consciousness
check and not continuing the protocol until an inmate is unconscious (as noted in Justice Cannady’s dissent in the Florida
Supreme Court), the Florida Supreme Court erred in finding that this assertion was sufficient to grant a stay. The stay should be vacated,” Bondi wrote.

Palm Beach County lawmaker proposes military funeral ‘do not disturb’ measure

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

State Rep. Pat Rooney, R-Palm Beach Gardens, has proposed a bill that would create a 500-foot buffer around military funerals.

Florida already has a law on the books making it a misdemeanor to disturb military funerals, but the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year ruled that such laws are an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.

The court in March ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church of Topkea, Kan., was exercising its right to free speech when its members held anti-gay protests at military funerals.

Rooney sponsored a new measure (HB 31) that would make it a misdemeanor to protest, picket or hold other similar demonstrations within 500 feet of a cemetery, funeral home or residence from one hour before to an hour after a funeral for a veteran, emergency response worker, elected official or minor.

The majority decision in the Westboro case made clear that states may regulate funeral protests in certain situations. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that demonstrations may be regulated if the laws are not aimed at any particular views and narrowly crafted. Dozens of other states and federal lawmakers are now considering proposals similar to Rooney’s. The key difference with the new proposals, including Rooney’s, is the creation of buffer zones around military funerals. In his opinion, Roberts wrote that the Westboro protestors were not in violation of Maryland’s 100-foot military funeral buffer zone.

“A funeral is a time meant for family and friends to grieve and remember, it is not a time for a spectacle to be made,” Rooney said in a press release. “For those suffering the terrible loss of a loved one, unwarranted harassment some may attempt compounds the grief and already strained emotions. This just is not acceptable.”

Rooney’s staff said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, would file a companion bill.

Rooney’s aide Andrew Watt said the representative decided to run the bill after learning that the Westboro group planned to protest the funeral of a nine-year-old girl murdered during the attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson. In addition, the Kansas-based Westboro group has protested at least one military funeral in Port St. Lucie within the past two years.

UPDATE: Rick Scott willing to go to Supreme Court over drug testing state workers

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott is willing to take the fight over drug testing state workers all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, his spokeswoman said today in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

The civil rights organization filed the lawsuit challenging Scott’s executive order mandating drug testing of all state workers, arguing it is a violation of the constitution’s protection from unreasonable searches by government.

“The Governor is confident the courts will see that this policy makes sense and is legally sound, and he’ll take the law suit to the Supreme Court if that’s what it takes to implement a common sense policy that is appropriate and fair to tax payers. If it makes good business sense for private sector companies to drug test their employees, why wouldn’t it make good business sense for the state?” Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham said in an e-mail.

Oral arguments set in federal health care lawsuit

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 by Dara Kam

A federal appeals court in Atlanta has set June 8 for oral arguments in the the federal health care lawsuit but denied Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s request for a full court hearing.

The fast-tracked lawsuit by 26 states, including Florida, and the National Federal of Independent Businesses is ultimately headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We are pleased that the 11th Circuit scheduled oral argument this June, so we can resolve this case and protect Americans’ individual liberties,” Bondi said in a statement. “This case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, and a case of such national importance should have no delay.”

Pensacola U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in January ruled the health overhaul unconstitutional, saying the U.S. Commerce Clause did not allow the federal government to require every citizen to buy insurance or pay a penalty. Doing so would give the federal government such sweeping powers that it could force its citizens to eat broccoli, he contended.

Vinson, who is based in Pensacola, declared the entire health act invalid.

Earlier this month Vinson put a stay on his ruling while the appeals proceed – meaning the health act could continue to be implemented – but gave the White House a week to appeal. President Obama’s administration filed the appeal on March 9.

Senate approves health care amendment 29-10

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

On the second day of the legislative session, the Florida Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment allowing Florida to opt out of the federal health care law, the chamber’s President Mike Haridopolos’ top priority.

The Senate approved the measure, (SJR 2) by a 29-10 vote, with just one Democrat – Bill Montford of Tallahassee – voting in favor.

The amendment, which would go before the voters next year, bans the federal government from forcing Floridians from having to purchase health care coverage, the “individual mandate” that is the subject of several federal court cases, including one in Florida. A Pensacola federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional. President Obama’s administration appealed that ruling yesterday, and the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide on the case.

Lawmakers attempted to put a similar measure on the ballot last year, but the Florida Supreme Court struck it down saying it was confusing to voters. Haridopolos tweaked the language to try to meet the court’s muster this time around.

Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican, is running for U.S. Senate, and could possibly on the same November 2012 ballot as the amendment.

“This is about freedom. This is about federalism. This is not a unitary government where everything just comes on down high from government,” Haridopolos said before the vote. “This is about choice. This is about freedom and respecting the U.S. Constitution and…mostly, respecting individual rights.”

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston argued that the federal law already allows states to opt out if they come up with another way to make sure its citizens are insured.

“The fact remains that this is the law of the land and it is our duty to take the appropriate steps to implement this law,” Rich said. “Whether you like it or not, we have a federal system of government…Federal law remains the supreme law of the land.”

The proposed amendment would require 60 percent approval from the voters to pass. The House has not yet voted on the measure.

Arguing against the bill, Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, took umbrage at Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, calling the law “Obamacare.”

“Sen. Gaetz mentioned Obamacare,” Hill said. “At least somebody care.”

Pensacola judge rules White House can carry on health care law, for now

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

President Obama’s administration can continue implementation of the federal health care act, a federal judge ordered today in the multi-state lawsuit led by Florida.

But, in a 20-page order issued today, Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida gave the White House one week to file its appeal.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, leading the charge in the case involving 25 other states, had insisted that Vinson’s ruling quashed the law and that the state no longer had to implement it.

But in his “clarification” issued today, Vinson today wrote that his January ruling striking down the federal law as unconstitutional did not force White House officials and states to stop implementing the law.

But, he wrote, that was because he expected the Justice Department to immediately file an appeal in the case, expected to ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be. And yet, it has been more than one month from the entry of my order and judgment and still the defendants have not filed their notice of appeal,” Vinson wrote.

File an appeal already, Bondi tells White House

Thursday, February 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi called President Obama’s administration’s request for clarification in a ruling overturning the federal health care law a delay tactic and urged the president to file an appeal to move the case along to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bondi yesterday asked U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson to reject the Justice Department’s request for clarification of his ruling that the health care law is unconstitutional. Some states, including Florida, have halted implementation of the law while awaiting an ultimate decision by the Supreme Court.

“Department of Justice’s motion to clarify is merely an attempt to delay the process when the order clearly required a halt to implementation,” Bondi said in a statement.

Vinson’s order amounts to an injunction on the health care law in Florida and the 25 other states in the lawsuit, Bondi said.

“Our memorandum states that time is of the essence in this matter, and the Court should deny the defendants’ motion for clarification as well as their thinly disguised request for a stay,” she said. “Everyone knows this case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Department of Justice should join us in seeking an expedited appeals process. This issue is too important for delay, and we urge the
President to file an appeal in the appropriate appellate court, as was done in Virginia and Michigan. It is in the country’s best interest to present this case before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as possible.”

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