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Sen. Arthenia Joyner quietly selected to take over Democratic caucus

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Senate Democrats quietly elected Arthenia Joyner to take over as chairwoman of the caucus next year in a behind-closed-doors meeting on the last day of the legislative session.

Joyner, a Tampa lawyer, will become the first black woman to chair the caucus, now chaired by Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer.

Joyner was selected without fanfare and during an unannounced meeting, a departure from how House Democrats handled a contested election won by Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg lawyer, in February. The House caucus election, broadcast on The Florida Channel, resulted in a tie vote. Rouson won by a single vote in a second round of balloting.

Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant called Joyner “a tireless advocate for Democratic values and ally to Florida’s middle class families” in a press release announcing her election.

Another elections challenge in Florida

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, a pair of voting-rights organizations have filed yet another challenge to Florida’s election law.

Joyner, the ACLU and the National Council of La Raza are accusing the state of essentially creating two voting systems in Florida, a violation of federal voting laws that require “uniformity.”

The challenge, filed in the Division of Administrative Hearings today, deals with the Gov. Rick Scott administration’s decision to allow portions of the new law to go into effect everywhere in the state except five counties that require federal “preclearance” before election law changes can go into effect.

Section 5 of the National Voting Rights Act require federal oversight for elections in Hendry, Collier, Hardee, Hillsborough and Monroe – with a history of racial or language discrimination against voters. The federal law covers the Florida counties as well as six other southern states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia – Alaska, and counties in North Carolina, Arizona, Hawaii, and Idaho.

The U.S. Department of Justice, the ACLU, La Raza and other civil and voting rights groups are fighting Florida over the four most controversial portions of the election law in federal court in Washington.

Those portions include a reduction of the number of days for early voting and restrictions on when voters can change their addresses at the polling place. A federal judge in Tallahassee struck down two other portions of the law dealing with third party voter registration groups, but those remain at issue in the Washington case.

“These are not trivial changes of laws or practices that might be applied differently to allow for local idiosyncrasies; they bear directly on rights that are central to the electoral process,” the complaint reads. “The establishment of this dual regulatory system by the Secretary is the antithesis of uniformity.”

The new law does away with early voting the Sunday before the general election. But civil rights groups argue that’s the day that many black voters participated in “Souls to the Polls” when church-goers cast their ballots after attending services.

Critics of the new law say it is aimed at keeping minorities, low-income and college students – who helped boost President Obama into the White House four years ago – from being able to vote for his reelection in November.

Compromise gives governors ability to fire majority of JNCs but saves Crist picks

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Governors could fire most of the panelists who help pick judges — a watered-down version of a Gov. Rick Scott priority — under a bill up for a vote as early as Wednesday in the Florida Senate.

The new language is a compromise between Scott and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the bill’s sponsor, who said the system is fine as it is but agreed to make a concession to Scott.

Scott wanted to be able to fire all nine members of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions, but lawmakers balked, calling it a power grab by the governor that could tip the courts and overly-politicize judicial selection.

The panels send the governor a list of three candidates to replace retiring or resigning judges. Governors appoint five of the nine members of the JNCs; the Florida Bar appoints the other four.

Under the original version of the measure (SB 1570), Scott would have been able to fire all of Gov. Charlie Crist’s appointees to the panels. Current law only allows the JNC members to be removed from their staggered, four-year terms if they have done something wrong.

The compromise would only apply to JNC members appointed after Jan. 4, 2011, the day Scott took office, meaning Crist’s picks are safe until their terms run out.

But the new proposal gives Scott the ability to keep the panels from essentially forcing him to go with their selection by including two unqualified candidates on the list, Simmons, a lawyer, said.

Black Dems trying to change Sunday pre-election voting restriction

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sen. Chris Smith will try to change Florida’s election law to re-open early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, one of the controversial provisions included in the state’s disputed election law passed last year.

Smith and other black lawmakers interrupts a “souls to the polls” movement instituted a decade ago when Florida began early voting. As many of 30 percent of black voters in some communities cast their ballots after attending church on Sunday, Smith, R-Fort Lauderdale, said.

“Last year’s law forbid us from doing that,” Smith told reporters, including a CNN crew, Friday morning. He said he plans to introduce an amendment that would allow but not require elections supervisors to hold the Sunday voting again on the floor this morning but has not heard from Senate GOP leaders whether they will sign off on the change to the elections bill (SB 1596).

The sweeping election reform passed last year – now being challenged in court – was aimed at reducing election fraud, Republican lawmakers insist.

But Smith said that does not explain the ban on Sunday voting.

“If fraud is going to happen, it is not suddenly going to happen on that Sunday,” he said.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a lawyer and civil rights activist, said she believes the law was intentionally designed to make it harder for blacks to vote in the general election this year to keep President Obama from being reelected after minority voters and college students helped sweep Obama into the White House four years ago. Florida is one of more than a dozen states that passed restrictive elections laws last year.

“It’s my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African Americans in this country because it’s playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional,” Joyner, D-Tampa, said.

A Tallahassee federal judge this week held a hearing in a lawsuit filed against the state by voting rights groups challenging the state’s new laws regarding third-party voter registration. The new law caused the League of Women Voters to stop registering voters for the first time in decades.

Florida A&M University president Ammons on way out?

Friday, December 16th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida A&M University Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion‘s hazing-related death was a homicide, an autopsy report ruled today.

The Orlando medical examiner’s findings were released as Gov. Rick Scott stepped up pressure for the historically black university’s president James Ammons to step down.

After being summoned to Scott’s office this afternoon, a subdued Ammons – until then appearing to reject calls for his ouster – said the governor was committed to preserving FAMU’s future and indicated he may go along with Scott’s recommendation before the university’s board of trustees meet on the issue, again at Scott’s urging, by telephone Monday morning.

“It’s something I’m considering,” Ammons told reporters before leaving the Capitol to hand out diplomas at FAMU’s fall graduation ceremony.

Champion’s death was caused by internal bleeding after suffering blunt trauma, the Orlando medical examiner’s office said. The autopsy found the 26-year-old had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and suffered bleeding from soft tissues.

Former state Sen. Al Lawson, a FAMU alumnus who accompanied Ammons to Scott’s office in the role of mediator, said it was no surprise that Champion’s death was a homicide.

“This young man lost his life as a result of hazing. It had to do with a lot of physical blows and so forth, in that report. I think everybody expected that it would be that,” Lawson said. “We know the history of hazing at the university. It’s been around since the early 50s.”

Lawson also advised Ammons to stay on the job until the trustees reach a decision Monday morning, and indicated the governor-appointed board may not agree with Scott.


Scott had authority to axe high-speed rail, Supremes rule; train likely dead

Friday, March 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Two senators who challenged Gov. Rick Scott’s authority to kill a high-speed rail project failed to make their case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled today.

And Scott reiterated his rejection of $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for the project this morning in a telephone call with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, likely meaning the money will go to other states.

“The Governor is gratified that the court provided a clear and unanimous decision, he is now focused on moving forward with infrastructure projects that create long-term jobs and turn Florida’s economy around. He also spoke with US DOT Secretary LaHood this morning and informed him that Florida will focus on other infrastructure projects and will not move forward with any federal high speed rail plan,” Scott’s spokesman Brian Burgess said in a statement.


Senators respond to Scott’s response on high-speed rail suit: WE’RE in charge

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The latest salvo in a constitutional battle over who’s got the power to get a high-speed train on track in Florida came from two senators suing Gov. Rick Scott over his refusal to accept $2.4 billion in federal funds for the project.

Sens. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, allege in their suit filed yesterday that Scott overstepped his authority by rejecting the funds, part of which lawmakers had already appropriated, and scrapping the project that they had created in state law.

Scott fired back today that the senators were simply miffed their “policy preferences” hadn’t prevailed in the political realm, and that the high court couldn’t micromanage the Legislature or governor to spend federal money that hadn’t been appropriated yet.

Now, the bipartisan pair issued their response to his response.

“Respondent has set up a fake argument just in order to tear it down. Petitioners are not asking this Court to direct the Respondent how to manage the construction of the high speed rail in Florida. Instead, the Petitioners are simply asking this Court to direct the Respondent that he does not have the jurisdiction or authority as granted by the laws of this State (which he is obligated to faithfully execute) to take the action he has taken in rejecting a specific appropriation of $130.8 million; federal grants amounting to $2.4 billion subject to statutory authority; dedicated funding pursuant to the Florida Rail Act of $60 million per year; and thus the entire high speed rail project,” their lawyers wrote.

Their filing this afternoon is probably the last stop for the fast-tracked lawsuit for today.

The court ordered oral arguments at 3 p.m. tomorrow to get a decision in time for the Friday deadline set by the White House for Scott to change his mind.

Supremes fast-track oral arguments on high-speed rail lawsuit

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Supreme Court ordered oral arguments tomorrow at 3 p.m. on a lawsuit filed by two senators against Gov. Rick Scott over his nixing of a high-speed rail project.

The suit, filed by Sens. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, accuses Scott of overstepping his authority when he rejected $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for a Tampa-to-Orlando rail project already approved by the legislature and his predecessor Charlie Crist.

Scott argued in his response that it was his privilege to turn down the money and that, at best, the court could order him to spend the $130.8 million already appropriated by the legislature for the project “to build a few miles of railroad for no apparent purpose”

If they did that, the “Court will have created the high-speed railroad to nowhere,” Scott’s response reads.

Scott responds to rail lawsuit, calls senators sore losers

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

A lawsuit filed by two senators challenging Gov. Rick Scott‘s authority to reject $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail project “is based on mischaracterizations and omissions of fact,” the governor’s lawyers wrote in a response filed shortly before noon today.

Scott scolds Sens. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, and Thad Altman, a Rockledge Republican, for overstepping their bounds by asking the court to force Scott to accept the funds even though Senate President Mike Haridopolos has vowed not to spend any money on the project this year. In the response, Scott insists he will veto any appropriations for the project should they make it into the budget.

In the opening line of Scott’s 29-page response, the governor’s legal team call Joyner and Altman “State Senators whose policy preferences have not prevailed in the political process” and frequently disparage the Tampa-to-Orlando rail project that would eventually link to Miami.

“Fortunately for the taxpayers of Florida, nothing in Florida law compels the Governor or the (Florida Rail Enterprise) to pour millions of dollars into a black hole during the historic fiscal crisis with which the State is presently grappling,” Scott’s general counsel Charles Trippe wrote.

UPDATE: High-speed rail suit on high court fast track

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Scott issued this statement about the lawsuit:
“My position remains unchanged, I’ve yet to see any evidence that Florida taxpayers would not be on the hook. Senators Altman and Joyner’s disrespect for taxpayers is clear by their lawsuit trying to force the state to spend this money.”

The Florida Supreme Court gave Gov. Rick Scott until noon tomorrow to respond to a lawsuit filed today by two state senators challenging the governor’s authority to reject $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail project.

Sens. Thad Altman, a Republican from Melbourne, and Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, filed the lawsuit today asking the court to order Scott to accept the money or issue an immediate injunction keeping the White House from giving the money away to other states.

Their lawsuit alleges that Scott exceeded his authority by rejecting the money that his predecessor Charlie Crist had already accepted and that lawmakers had already spent a portion of.

It’s all about the constitutional separation of powers, the bipartisan pair said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

“This is not a monarchy. He is not a king,” Joyner, a lawyer, said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asked U.S. Transportation Department Ray LaHood to wait while the lawsuit proceeds before giving the money away. He’s already given the state two delays to give Scott more time to reconsider.

Two senators sue Scott over high-speed rail

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Sens. Thad Altman, a Melbourne Republican, and Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott over his rejection of $2.4 billion from the federal government for a high-speed rail project.

The bipartisan duo asked the Florida Supreme Court to force Scott to accept the money, challenging Scott’s authority to turn down money his predecessor Charlie Crist had already accepted.

Altman and Joyner also asked the court to agree with them that Scott exceeded his authority because the legislature had already appropriated part of the funds he’s now refused.

They also want the court to issue a temporary injunction while they’re considering the case, if they decide to take it up.

Scott, with the support of tea party activists, calls the $2.7 billion project a boondoggle. He says he doesn’t believe the train will support itself and fears that taxpayers will be on the hook for cost overruns and future operations.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met with Scott last week in Washington and gave Florida another week to come up with an alternate plan, something a bipartisan coalition of local, state and federal lawmakers have been scrambling to accomplish.

But Scott remains unconvinced and has given no indication he will change his mind.

Nan Rich takes over Senate Dems

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Sen. Nan Rich has her work cut out for her as the Weston Democrat takes over as head of her caucus.

Dems are outnumbered more than ever after the elections earlier this month – just 51 Democrats remain of the 160 members of the House and Senate. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in both chambers – IF they can keep Democratic leader Rich and her House counterpart Ron Saunders from corralling moderate GOP members on crucial floor and committee votes.

Democrats are down to 12 in the Senate after losing two seats to Republicans earlier this month.

Perhaps Rich’s right-hand-woman, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, expressed it best during a caucus conference this morning.

“As the loyal opposition, we’ve got to be a voice for the voiceless,” Joyner, D-Tampa, said. “As a black woman…I’m ready for a fight every day because…Just to exist, everything’s a fight. It’s a way of life.
It’s not a problem because we know how to take it even in the worst of times.”

Prison ‘food loaf’ not offensive but tastes ‘like it’s already been eaten before’

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 by Dara Kam

img00136One brave senator and a few courageous volunteers sampled the controversial prison ‘food loaf’ banned in some states that drew questions during a criminal justice budget meeting last week.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner asked prison officials last week to give her the nutritional value of the culinary concoction – also called “behavior modification loaf,” “nutri-loaf” or “suicide loaf” – used to punish misbehaving prisoners.

This morning, Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Richard Prudom arrived at the Senate committee meeting with two loaves of the questionable meal and the “special management meal” recipe.

The meeting ended without Joyner, D-Tampa, or any other committee member sampling the loaf, which resembles a holiday fruitcake with visible chunks of carrot instead of citrus.

But Chairman Victor Crist gave in when urged to try it and conducted an ad-hoc taste test with a Senate aide, a reporter and a lobbyist.

The consensus: the worst thing about the loaf is its consistency, which one guinea pig likened to “something that’s been eaten before.”

“It’s not real tasty.”

“It doesn’t smell bad.”

“It’s awful.”

The recipe calls for carrots, spinach, black-eyed peas, beans, vegetable oil, tomato paste, grits, water and oats.

DOC’s loaves, baked at the nearby Wakulla Correctional Institution, had an overpowering smell of spinach and a mushy consistency with a bland taste that, while far from a gastronomical delight, did not induce a gag reflex when sniffed, chewed or swallowed.

But Crist said that, with a little gravy and heated up as the recipe calls for, most people probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the loaf and genuine meat loaf.

“I don’t find anything offensive about it,” Crist, R-Tampa, said, “but it’s not something I’d order off the menu.”

Lawmaker has a beef with DOC ‘food loaf’

Thursday, February 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Food loaf. It’s what inmates hope isn’t for dinner.

As if prison food isn’t bad enough already, naughty inmates are fed a mystery “meat” called “food loaf.”

What exactly the loaf is made up of and what prisoners do to warrant the punishing meal isn’t clear either.

“Food loaf” is also known as called “meal management loaf,” “nutri-loaf” or “behavioral loaf in prison circles. In some prisons the concoction is made up of all of the day’s food put into a blender with some oats thrown in and baked into a loaf.

It is given in some prisons to unruly inmates who throw their food trays at correctional officers and was served in the past to Florida inmates with no utensils.

Currently, inmates in Vermont are suing prison officials over the use of the food loaf and which some states have banned.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, asked Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Richard Prudhom at this morning’s Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations meeting morning to give her, in writing, the caloric value of the mystery package and the department policy on offenses that result in the loaf.

Prudhom said he will report back.

The state spends $2.33 a day for three meals and a snack on the 100,000 prisoners behind bars.

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