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Senate moves to end separation of church and state

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The separation of church and state has been in Florida’s constitution for more than a century.

But that might this fall under a proposal approved by a Senate committee this morning that could go before voters on the November ballot.

The “Religious Freedom” amendment would delete the 125-year-old provision in the constitution prohibiting state money from being spent directly or indirectly to aid any church, sect or religious denomination. And it would open the door to former Gov. Jeb Bush’s school voucher program allowing public school students to use state money to pay for religious school tuition that the Florida Supreme Court struck down.

Also known as the “Blaine Amendment,” the separation of church and state restriction was an anti-Catholic, anti-immigration measure aimed at keeping Catholics from obtaining government funding for their schools.


Crist vetoes leadership funds, draws GOP wrath

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a campaign finance measure pushed by GOP lawmakers that would have given powerful legislative leaders the ability to open “leadership funds” to influence elections.

Crist said in his veto letter that the accounts, done away with by lawmakers more than two decades ago, “allowed legislative leaders to solicit and accept campaign contributions during the legislative session from lobbyists and interest groups outside of the public view.”

The bill (HB 1207) also would have shed light on electioneering communications organizations, or ECOs, that advertise against candidates or issues without having to identify who they are.

Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate, liked that part of the proposal and asked lawmakers to send him back a revised version.

Democrats praised Crist’s veto while his partisan colleagues blasted it.

“If Governor Crist was serious about giving the people of Florida real election reform and providing accountability for the campaign activity of leaders in the Legislature and at the state’s political parties, he would have made this the law of our great state,” Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla said in a statement.

“Instead, the veto indicates he may be more interested in protecting the status quo and scoring points in his quest for higher office, than he is in providing the people of Florida real and meaningful election reforms,” Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said.

But Sen. Dan Gelber lauded Crist’s action.

“It was the right thing to do. Floridians are tired of the shenanigans that are increasingly defining state government. The bill was a step in the wrong direction, and I think Gov. Crist recognized so. We need to put an end to cash register politics, not enable it,” Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said in a statement. Gelber is running statewide for attorney general.

AG candidate Gelber goes after AG McCollum’s ‘political frolic’ on Senate floor

Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Sen. Dan Gelber, a Democrat running for attorney general, sparked a mini-debate on the national health care package after he accused Attorney General Bill McCollum of political gamesmanship by filing a federal lawsuit over the reforms.

Gelber filed an amendment on an attorney general-related bill that would bar the AG from hiring private lawyers to challenge the constitutionality of the federal health reform act.

In what sounded a lot like a campaign speech of his own, Gelber accused McCollum, a Republican running for governor, of using his office to launch a headline-grabbing “ideological escapade” and “political frolic” to boost his popularity.

“This is nothing other than a political fraud,” Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said. “Yes, the the attorney general may have been the first one (to file the lawsuit). But he had a press conference every single day on this. It was nothing but a political issue…
The question we should ask ourselves is why is the attorney general…on this political frolic whose only purpose is to simply get headlines? It is wrong.”

McCollum is simply trying to “defend us from a mandate that has never before in the history of our country been done wherein we have to purchase insurance and if we don’t we have some kind of statutory violation,” said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, the bill (SB 712) sponsor.

Thrasher said that if the attorney general stops defending the rights of Floridians, “then we ought to get a new one.”

“I share your view that we ought to get rid of the current attorney general if that’s what you just said,” Gelber quipped.

Gelber’s amendment failed, but the state senator-attorney general candidate debate didn’t stop there.

‘Corruption County’ bill strengthens penalties for ethics violations

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 by Dara Kam

With Palm Beach “Corruption” County in mind, lawmakers are moving toward stiffening local ordinances combating ethics violations.

Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, is backing a bill that allow counties to increase the current penalties for violations of county ordinances imposing ethical standards and financial disclosure requirements from 60 days in jail to one year in jail and double the fine from $500 to $1,000 per occurance.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee signed off on Aronberg’s proposal (SB 1980) this afternoon with a 9-1 vote.

Aronberg sponsored the bill at the behest of the scandal-plagued Palm Beach County Commission, which recently established an ethics panel in the wake of a federal corruption probe that landed three former county commissioners in prison. Palm Beach County Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Boynton Beach, is the House bill (HB 1301) sponsor.

Aronberg said the measure, which would apply to all counties if it becomes law, puts teeth into local ordinances.

“Living in Palm Beach County, I’m well aware this has become a priority for the voters in my district,” Aronberg, who is running in a statewide Democratic primary for attorney general against Senate colleague Dan Gelber. “Hopefully, this will help remove our reputation as ‘Corruption County.’”

UPDATE: McCollum: No merit to faulty PVC pipe lawsuit, state won’t join

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum said today that the state will not join a federal whistleblower lawsuit against a PVC pipe manufacturer accused of selling millions of dollars of faulty water and sewer lines to local governments on projects around the country.

McCollum said his office agreed with the U.S. Justice Department that the case is without merit.

“After we looked at it, we concluded the same thing. So we chose not to join in this one,” McCollum, who is running in a GOP primary against Sen. Paula Dockery for governor, said.

McCollum has a team of lawyers looking into about 150 whistleblower – or qui tam – lawsuits at any given time, he said.

McCollum said his office will announce its involvement in a similar case within a few days “but not this one.”

State Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat running to replace McCollum, asked the attorney general yesterday to join four other states and dozens of cities, counties and water districts in the whistleblower suit filed in federal court in California.

Gelber bristled at McCollum’s reason for not joining the suit.

“That’s perplexing to me. Is the AG’s position that Florida won’t initiate an action unless the federal government does? I can’t believe that that is their position because that defeats the purpose of having your own attorney general who can vindicate the rights of your citizens,” Gelber said. “You must have got his quote wrong because no attorney general would cede the right of their citizens in that manner.”

A former employee of the company alleges that the pipes, used for sewer and water lines and supposed to last up to 50 years, leak and break as quickly as the first year of use and can rupture and explode.

Court documents show that Florida was among the governments initially involved in the lawsuit in 2006.

The allegedly faulty pipe was used in a Ft. Pierce project in 2003.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs claim that it will cost millions of dollars for local governments to dig up and replace the faulty sewer and water lines at a time when they can least afford it.

Gelber accuses AG McCollum of dragging his feet on faulty pipes

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

After more than four years, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum remains on the fence about whether to go after potentially millions of dollars from the manufacturers of faulty water and sewer pipes, a state senator who wants McCollum’s job charges.

Sen. Dan Gelber, a Democrat running for attorney general in a primary against Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres, asked McCollum to join other state attorneys general in a whistleblower lawsuit that Florida was initially involved in.

But McCollum, a Republican running for governor, has not officially joined at least four other states and numerous towns, cities and counties that are moving forward with the lawsuit against Los Angeles-based JM Eagle and its former parent company, makers of the PVC pipe.

A former employee of the company alleges that the pipes, used for sewer and water lines and supposed to last up to 50 years, leak and break as quickly as the first year of use and can rupture and explode.

Delaware, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia and at least 40 California water districts have joined the whistleblower lawsuit filed in federal court in California seeking millions of dollars in damages. Court documents show that Florida was among the governments initially involved in the lawsuit in 2006.

“These are not allegations that should be sat on,” Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said. “If something improper happened, people have a right to know and seek a remedy and it’s the attorney general’s obligation to make a decision ASAP. If there is a righteous cause of action for consumers, the last thing we want to be is late to the battle.”

Read Gelber’s letter to McCollum here.

Correction: Gelber gets Buddy McKay backing, Aronberg gets sheriffs

Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber and attorney general candidate nailed down another big-name Democratic endorsement, this time from Buddy McKay, who served as lieutenant governor under the late Gov. Lawton Chiles and briefly served as governor after Chiles’ death.

Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and former House member, is trying to trade up for the Cabinet post just a year after he won election to the Senate.

He and colleague Dave Aronberg, a Democratic senator from Greenacres, are in a battle-of-the-endorsements.

Post On Politics had erroneously reported that the sheriffs were split on the candidates.

They are not.

Aronberg has the support of 10 Democratic sheriffs, including Palm Beach County’s own law enforcement rock star Ric Bradshaw.

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, former state education commissioner Betty Castor and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis have all thrown their support behind Gelber.

Republicans have lined up Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and Holly Benson, a former House member who also served as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, in a GOP primary race that’s been virtually silent compared to the Aronberg/Gelber contest.

They’re all vying to replace Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican who is running for governor in a primary against another senator – Paula Dockery.

Gelber’s latest political aspiration has opened up the door for yet another former senator, Gwen Margolis, to return to the chamber.

Margolis, a former Senate President, left office before being termed out to make room for Gelber. If she wins, it would be the Miami Beach-area Democrat’s second return trip to the Senate. After serving in the state House, she switched to the Senate from 1981-1992 before making a losing bid for Congress. Margolis was reelected to the Senate in 2002.

Who should pay for rail accidents – taxpayers or CSX?

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly passed a rail bill that the House easily approved yesterday but for the third time faces a serious challenge in the Senate.

As in its first committee yesterday, the bill passed by a 5-4 vote.

Contentious testimony this morning centered on the controversial “SunRail” Central Florida commuter rail deal in which the state will pay Jacksonville-based CSX Inc. $641 million for 61 miles of track from Deland to Poinciana. The transportation giant would be able to continue to operate its freight on the line in exchange for a $1 a year payment to the state.

Who would pay for accidents on the line was the heart of the debate in the committee this morning.

The proposal would cap liability for CSX – even if freight operator is at fault – at $10 million. The state would be on the hook for the rest of the damages, which have run into hundreds of millions of dollars in other states.

Why wouldn’t Florida do the same as some other states that make freight operators liable for criminal negligence, Sen. Dan Gelber, a lawyer, asked committee Chairman Joe Negron.

“It’s because of pleading requirements and other issues that arise in indemnification agreements we’ve made the choice that we’ve made,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

Gelber wasn’t satisfied.

“What we’re really doing in this is we’re allowing a private company to insure itself for criminal misconduct, for wanton misconduct, for gross negligence, for gross recklessness which nowhere else in Florida have we ever done. We’ve never done that by statute. So this is a major move,” said Gelber, D-Miami Beach, who was on the losing side of the vote.

The measure is now being heard in the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee, where it is also expected to pass.

The Senate will debate the bill on the floor this afternoon.

Obama lands in Miami to raise money for Dem Senate, House candidates

Monday, October 26th, 2009 by George Bennett

MIAMI — Air Force One just landed here as President Obama prepares to attend a fund-raiser in Miami Beach for Democratic Senate and House candidates.

Obama stepped off the plane about 5:30 p.m. with Sen. Bill Nelson and greeted a passel of Democratic elected officials on the tarmac at Miami International Airport: Chief Financial Officer and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink; U.S. Rep. and Democratic Senate frontrunner Kendrick Meek of Miami; U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston; Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach.

Obama is to attend a fund-raiser at the Fountainebleu Hotel, then go to a solar energy plant in DeSoto County on Tuesday.

Aronberg snags Fraternal Order of Police endorsement in Dem AG primary

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 by George Bennett



The state Fraternal Order of Police is endorsing state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, in the 2010 Democratic primary for attorney general.

Aronberg is running against state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, for the Democratic nomination to succeed Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum, who’s running for governor. GOP candidates for AG include Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.

fop-starSays FOP Florida President James Preston: “Dave Aronberg’s history of commitment to public service, and his legislative record of giving special attention to the area of public safety has earned this valuable endorsement. His experience as an assistant attorney general and his leadership in the Legislature as an advocate for public safety and on behalf of law enforcement make him a perfect fit to serve as Florida’s next chief law enforcement official…We are confident in the leadership that Dave Aronberg will bring to the office of Attorney General.”

Holly Benson leaving AHCA, expected to announce AG run next month

Thursday, October 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

secbensonAgency for Health Care Administration Secretary Holly Benson resigned from her post this morning, the day after meeting with Gov. Charlie Crist who appointed her to the post in Feb. 2008.

“I had a meeting with the Governor the other day to talk about some opportunities that lie ahead, and I regret that because of those opportunities I will no longer be able to serve as your Secretary,” Benson wrote in an e-mail to AHCA workers this morning.

Benson, a former state representative from the Panhandle, is expected to jump into the attorney general’s race next month, according to sources close to the Pensacola Republican. That could elevate interest in a GOP primary against Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who’s already announced his candidacy to replace Bill McCollum. Democratic state Sens. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and Dan Gelber of Miami Beach are already engaged in a heated battle for the state’s top law enforcement chief.

Crist tapped Benson, a bond lawyer, to head AHCA in 2008. Before that, she left her Pensacola House seat to head DBPR, again at Crist’s bidding.

In the House, Benson was the force behind a model Medicaid reform project that has had mixed results. (more…)

AG candidates Aronberg and Gelber clash on vouchers, bash Republicans

Sunday, October 11th, 2009 by George Bennett

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Democratic attorney general candidates Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber traded a few elbows over school vouchers and campaign finance this morning but spent most of their time bashing Republicans during a debate before about 1,000 Democratic activists.

The first debate between the primary rivals saw Miami Beach state Sen. Gelber repeatedly stressing his eight-year record as a federal prosecutor while Greenacres Sen. Aronberg, 38, frequently invoked popular former Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth, for whom Aronberg worked in two stints between 1999 and 2002.

The debate’s most heated exchange came when Gelber accused Aronberg of supporting private school vouchers.


Sheriff-palooza update: Alachua endorsement for Aronberg suggests Rod Smith won’t run for AG

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 by George Bennett

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell is endorsing Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, for attorney general. That’s a strong indication that Darnell’s friend and former hometown state Senator, Rod Smith, will not run for AG in 2010.

Smith is the former state attorney who prosecuted Gainesville serial killer Danny Rolling before becoming a state Senator and losing a 2006 Democratic primary for governor. He has been considering the AG race and would be considered a formidable candidate because of his statewide name-identification.

Smith today stopped short of saying he won’t run for AG, but noted that he talked to Darnell before she endorsed Aronberg.

“I have not made any announcement on this, but certainly when my friends are announcing their support for other people, it can be assumed that most of them don’t think I’m going to be running,” Smith said.


Aronberg’s sheriff-palooza continues with AG endorsement from Glades County’s Whiddon

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 by George Bennett

Whiddon: third sheriff to back Aronberg for AG

Whiddon: third sheriff to back Aronberg for AG

Glades County Sheriff Stuart Whiddon is endorsing state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, in the Democratic primary for Florida attorney general. Whiddon joins Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara in backing Aronberg, who faces state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, in the primary for Florida’s top lawyer’s job.

Said Whiddon, in a statement released today by Aronberg’s campaign: “Dave fits the mold of an ideal Attorney General….previous experience already working in the office as assistant AG, a track record of getting consumer protection laws passed, even experience at the federal level fighting terrorism by going after money laundering operations…no one else can offer Floridians that kind of background and dedication to the job.“

Gelber pushes constitutional amendment to stop secret budget deals

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber is pushing a constitutional amendment aimed at cracking down on the kind of secret budget deals that got former House Speaker Ray Sansom in trouble.

Gelber, who is running against Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres in a Democratic primary for state attorney general, and Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, want lawmakers to put the constitutional amendment on next year’s November ballot.

The amendment would require that appropriations bills be written in plain language and that all budget conference meetings between two or more lawmakers be conducted in a publicly noticed meeting.

The state budget is usually crafted in a much different manner, going through a series of conference committees until the Senate President and the House Speaker ultimately resolve their differences behind closed doors.

In Sansom’s case, he was the House budget chairman when he slipped in a $6 million item to build an airport at a college where he later became a high-paid executive on the day he was annointed Speaker.

Sansom, Okaloosa County developer Jay Odom and former Northwest Florida State College President Bob Richburg have been indicted on official misconduct charges regarding the airport.

Sansom and Richburg each face an additional perjury charge for allegedly lying to a Leon County grand jury. They are scheduled to stand trial at the end of this month. (more…)

Aronberg’s sheriff-palooza continues with Mascara endorsement in AG race

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 by George Bennett

State Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, has picked up the endorsement of St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara in Aronberg’s quest for the Democratic attorney general nomination. Aronberg, who’s running against state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, in the primary, unveiled an endorsement from Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw a few weeks ago.

Says Mascara: “Dave Aronberg and I share the same commitment when it comes to law enforcement…zero tolerance for anyone who preys on any Floridian, young or old. We need someone in that office who wants to be Attorney General to protect the public from serious crimes including consumer fraud. “

Law enforcement endorsement battle in Aronberg-Gelber Democratic AG primary

Monday, August 24th, 2009 by George Bennett

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw endorsed state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, for attorney general today, our Andrew Marra reports from the Port of Palm Beach.

Aronberg is trumpeting it as the first endorsement by a law enforcement official in the Democratic AG primary. But rival state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, suggests he earned that distinction when he received the backing of former U.S. Attorney General and 2002 Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Janet Reno.

Former U.S. AG Janet Reno endorses Dan Gelber for state AG

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Dara Kam

gelber-speechrenoFormer U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno endorsed state Sen. Dan Gelber for Florida attorney general today.

“Dan has the gumption and spirit to make the Attorney General’s office a vital force in the lives of Floridians,” Reno said in a press release issued today, saying Gelber would make a “splendid” AG.

Gelber, a former federal prosecutor from Miami Beach, is running in a primary against fellow Democratic state senator Dave Aronberg of Greenacres to replace Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is leaving office after one term to run for governor.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp is the leading GOP candidate in the race so far.

Reno, a Miami native, served under President Bill Clinton as the first female U.S. Attorney General.

Former AG Butterworth neutral so far in 2010 AG race

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009 by George Bennett

PALM BEACH GARDENS — The three leading candidates for Florida attorney general — Republican Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and Democratic state Sens. Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber — are here to speak to a Florida Sheriff’s Association lunch.

Also at the conference at the PGA Resort and Spa is Bob Butterworth, the Democrat who served four terms as attorney general from 1987 to 2003 and was sheriff of Broward County in the 1970s. Butterworth was Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s appointee to head the Department of Children and Families before stepping down last year and going into private law practice in Broward County.

Asked if he’ll take sides in the 2010 race for his old job, Butterworth said, “I’m not sure at this point in time. We have very good people running on both sides of the aisle.” He added that he’s not sure whether all the candidates for AG have entered the race — a reference, no doubt, to former Democratic state Sen. Rod Smith, who’s considering a run for the top legal post.

Broward appraiser Parrish to endorse Aronberg in AG race

Thursday, June 25th, 2009 by George Bennett

Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish today will endorse state Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, in the Democratic primary for attorney general, an Aronberg campaign adviser says.

Aronberg and state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, are the only announced Democrats in the AG race, which means both have similar South Florida bases for their statewide campaigns. That could be a problem for them if former state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua enters the Democratic primary.

Gelber recently ventured into Aronberg’s turf to pick up an endorsement from Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon. Aronberg returned the favor by snagging an endorsement from Miami Beach City Commissioner Noah Wolfson, who’s hosting a fund-raiser for Aronberg this month.

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