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Antonacci returns to Capitol — as Scott’s top lawyer

Thursday, December 6th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Pete Antonacci, who served as Palm Beach County state attorney since March, is returning to the Florida Capitol after being named Thursday as Gov. Rick Scott’s general counsel.

Antonacci, appointed by Scott to succeed Michael McAuliffe, who left for a private-sector job, is scheduled to leave office in January following the election last month of Dave Aronberg as Palm Beach County state attorney. Antonacci, who had been a statewide prosecutor and formerly a top deputy under Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, has practiced law and lobbied in Tallahassee for the past 15 years.

Antonacci will take over the general counsel’s post Jan. 8, Scott said.

The opening in Scott’s office emerged when current general counsel Jesse Panuccio was named executive director of the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

Panuccio takes over for Hunting Deutsch, who announced his resignation this week after questions were raised about him having received unemployment benefits for 20 months ending last year. Panuccio becomes Scott’s third jobs czar in 14 months.

During part of the period Deutsch was out of work as a banking executive, he traveled in Europe and was apparently unavailable to accept a job even if offered, a requirement of Florida’s unemployment compensation system. Scott, who apparently did not pressure Deutsch to leave, later said he had made the correct decision in stepping down.

Antonacci wasn’t a quiet caretaker in serving out the remaining months of McAuliffe’s term. He fired a couple of top prosecutors after criticizing the county’s criminal conviction rate, and took the unprecedented step of filing a legal motion to have a county judge, Barry Cohen, barred from presiding over criminal cases.

 

Man once paid $1.25 million for wrongful conviction, now accused of attempted murder

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 by John Kennedy

A Tallahassee man paid $1.25 million by the state after serving 24 years for a crime he didn’t do was behind bars again Tuesday,  accused of attempted murder.

Alan Crotzer, 51, is charged with shooting as many as eight bullets into a car riding next to him on a busy city street. The driver of the other car, who had a recent dispute with Crotzer, was wounded in the arm and leg, according to Tallahassee police.

Crotzer was awarded $1.25 million by the Florida Legislature in 2008 after spending 24 years in prison for a double rape. Crotzer, then a St. Petersburg resident, was convicted in 1982 despite weak evidence against him.  He was behind bars until DNA evidence exonerated him in 2006.

Lawyers at the Innoncence Project helped free Crotzer, who went on to work for a Tallahassee lawn service and became a sought-after speaker.

Legislation compensating Crotzer was sponsored in the Florida Senate by former Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, now a candidate for Palm Beach County State’s Attorney.

Crotzer’s arrest is the first known, apparent misstep committed by former inmates freed by DNA and later compensated by the state for their wrongful convictions. One of the first high-profile inmates was Wilton Dedge, a Brevard County man who served 22 years in prison for a sexual-assault conviction later overturned by DNA evidence.

Dedge received $2 million from state lawmakers in 2005.  But just last spring, the Legislature awarded $1.35 million to another former Brevard man, William Dillon, who was wrongfully convicted of a 1981 murder and spent 27 years in prison.

Fasano files pill mill bill

Friday, February 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, filed a bill that would continue the crackdown on “pill mills,” pain management clinics dealing prescription drugs that law enforcement officials say are worse than crack cocaine.

Fasano’s bill would enhance penalties for pill mill operators that don’t comply with state laws and require the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to conform with national standards.

The drug database has been on hold because of a lack of funding and a bid dispute.

Attorney General Pam Bondi is launching a new assault on the pill mills with a team led by state drug czar Dave Aronberg. Bondi called Florida “the epicenter of the country” for prescription drug abuse because busloads of drugsters travel to the state from Kentucky, Ohio and other places to get prescriptions from the rogue clinics.

Seven Floridians each day die from overdoses of prescription drugs.

GOP chair hopeful Lynch says he’s no Democratic guitar hero; asserts barbecue sauce defense for Dem shirt

Monday, December 6th, 2010 by George Bennett

GOP chair hopeful Ed Lynch (left, with guitar) says he was doing a sound check -- not performing -- when he appeared in 2008 with Democratic state House candidate (now state Rep.) Joseph Abruzzo and former Democratic state Sen. Dave Aronberg.

In his bid for Palm Beach County GOP chairman, two-time congressional candidate Ed Lynch is mounting a more-Republican-than-thou challenge of incumbent Sid Dinerstein. Among other things, he has ripped Dinerstein for allowing BIZPAC Chairman John R. Smith to be a non-voting member on the county GOP executive board when Smith contributed to Democratic state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo.

So Dinerstein supporter Jack Furnari is making hay of photos from 2008 that show Lynch wielding a guitar at a joint event for Democrats Abruzzo and former state Sen. Dave Aronberg. Lynch is wearing a “Team Aronberg” T-shirt in the pics, which conservative activist Furnari posted today on his blog.

Lynch says he donned Aronberg T-shirt after barbecue sauce mishap.

Lynch today called the guitar issue a sign his opponents are “desperate.”

Lynch says he merely loaned his sound system to a friend who played at the event. He says he picked up the guitar, which he says wasn’t his, to do a sound check and didn’t actually perform. Abruzzo said he thinks he remembers Lynch playing at the event, but can’t be absolutely sure. He said he remembers feeling a little uncomfortable about it because he supported Lynch’s opponent at the time, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler. Aronberg said he wasn’t 100 percent certain either, but thinks Lynch’s sound-check story is “probably right.”

And that Aronberg T-shirt? Lynch said he spilled barbecue sauce on his own shirt and donned the Democratic garment as an emergency substitute.

AG-elect Bondi taps bipartisan AG primary losers for transition team

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi enlisted two losing attorney general primary candidates to her transition team, which will be chaired by former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker,her predecessor Attorney General Bill McCollum and former House Speaker Larry Cretul.

Bondi tapped former state Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat who lost his AG bid in the primary to former state Sen. Dan Gelber who lost to Bondi, to serve on her pill mills and prescription drug team.

And Bondi recruited former state Rep. Holly Benson, her one-time opponent in the GOP primary, as one of her Medicaid fraud advisers. Benson formerly served as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The former Tampa prosecutor also asked her transition team members to sign an ethics pledge that includes a one-year ban on lobbying her office.

Bondi’s full list of transition team appointees follows.

(more…)

Aronberg, Gelber a state apart in last-minute push for attorney general

Saturday, August 21st, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Democratic candidates for attorney general spent the day in opposite parts of the state waving signs and knocking on doors in a last-ditch effort to win votes in Tuesday’s primary election.

State Sen. Dave Aronberg is spending the day in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. His opponent, Dan Gelber, is stumping in North Florida with stops in Tallahassee and Pensacola.

Gelber topped all of the attorney general candidates – including the three Republicans in a tight primary – in campaign contributions. He edged out opponent Aronberg, who led the raise in fundraising until this month, by just $11,000.

Like the Republican primary, the Aronberg and Gelber race is too close to call.

“With 43 percent undecided this is anyone’s game right now,” Aronberg said while going door-to-door in South Florida.

Gelber attorney general campaign bus tour, Dem-style

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Democratic state senator and attorney general hopeful Dan Gelber is kicking off a down-to-the wire bus tour beginning tomorrow in Miami.

Gelber, in a primary against Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres that’s too close to call, will make stops in Delray Beach and Boca Raton tomorrow afternoon with PBC tax collector Anne Gannon, who formerly served alongside Gelber in the state House.

Meanwhile, AG wannabe Pam Bondi launched the Republican version of the attorney general primary bus tour today. She’s visiting GOP strongholds like The Villages after a last-minute fundraiser tonight in Jacksonville hosted by Steve Halverson, chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Ericka Alba, chairwoman of Associated Industries of Florida.

The fundraising deadline for the Tuesday’s primary election is midnight tonight, causing candidates like Bondi and Gelber to frantically dial for dollars and send e-mails seeking contributions.

Gelber didn’t have to launch a bus tour to get on Bondi’s radar screen, however.

At several speeches today, Bondi repeatedly referred to Gelber as the Democratic nominee who she’ll be facing off against in November.

“Looks like it’s going to be Dan Gelber in the general,” Bondi told supporters at the Florida Chamber of Commerce this morning. “The more we hear about Dan Gelber, the more we learn, the last thing we need is an Eliot Spitzer attorney general.”

Gelber’s sweep across the state includes stops in Tallahassee, Pensacola, the Tampa Bay area, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Gelber’s opponent, Sen. Dave Aronberg, is conducting his own RV tour this weekend in South Florida. He’ll make stops in Delray Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Coconut Grove on Saturday.

Gelber strikes back at Aronberg in attorney general race TV ad

Friday, August 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber gets defensive in his first television ad in the race against fellow senator Dave Aronberg in the Democratic attorney general primary.

With absentee voting already underway, Gelber, a Miami Beach lawyer and former federal prosecutor, highlights his years in the courtroom and accuses Aronberg of “political games” and “dishonest attacks” in a series of mailers in which Aronberg accuses Gelber of a potential conflict of interest. Aronberg’s made a big issue out of Gelber’s former law firm going to work for BP to defend the oil giant in any Florida lawsuits.

Aronberg calls Gelber request for attorney general debates ‘political stunt’ but says yes…if

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dave Aronberg agreed to his colleague Sen. Dan Gelber’s request for debates before the primary election…sort of.

Aronberg and Gelber are in a heated Democratic primary for attorney general, and Aronberg’s taken off the gloves and attacked his opponent for Gelber’s former law firm’s representation of BP.

Gelber says he resigned from Akerman Senterfitt, the state’s largest law firm that recently was retained by BP, days before Aronberg demanded it.

Gelber then sent Aronberg a letter asking for 11 debates before the Aug. 24 primary.

Aronberg responded today calling a request for that many debates – nearly three a week – a “political stunt” and dragging BP into the debate arena.

“The next Attorney General will probably spend the better part of this decade involved in litigation of the state versus BP, Halliburton and other parties who might share liability for this disaster. Therefore, as we work together to agree on our debate schedule, I want to insist that at least one of the debates be held there so the citizens of that region can hear our plans for fighting for them as their Attorney General,” Aronberg wrote in a letter to Gelber.

Aronberg also agreed to a debate outside of South Florida, home to both Democrats, in Tampa Bay or Orlando.

Crist issues executive order allowing out-of-work Floridians to get extended unemployment benefits

Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Charlie Crist just accomplished what lawmakers refused to do earlier this year – give long-time jobless Floridians the ability to get extended unemployment compensation benefits approved by Congress yesterday.

Democratic lawmakers, including Palm Beach County’s Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and Rep. Kevin Rader of Boyton Beach, were among those who pushed their colleagues to extend the June 5 deadline for the benefits during the regular session that ended in May. That didn’t happen.

Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, worked behind-the-scenes with Crist on the executive order granting the benefits to about 100,000 Floridians whose unemployment benefits have run out and others whose benefits will dry up before Congress’ reauthorization ends.

“Unemployed Floridians are struggling in this challenging economic climate, trying to figure out how to pay their bills and support their families. We simply cannot desert the 250,000 Floridians who qualify for the extended federal assistance signed into law yesterday. I am committed to exercising my Constitutional duty to authorize the use of available federal funds to help out-of-work Floridians who qualify for this help,” Crist wrote in a release this afternoon.

Congress initially established the extended benefits program in 2008 to provide federal funds for jobless workers who exhausted their state unemployment benefits. Congress has since reauthorized the program several times.

Dems want special session to include unemployment benefits

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Two Palm Beach County lawmakers are pushing a measure to implement an expansion of unemployment compensation benefits Congress is expected to pass as early as today. The bill could bring about $270 million in unemployment benefits for about 200,000 long-term unemployed Floridians whose extended benefits dried up on June 5.

But there’s little chance GOP leaders will expand the special session on oil drilling that kicked off at noon and is already coming to a close in the House.

Gov. Charlie Crist called lawmakers into town to pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide if offshore oil drilling in Florida should be banned.

The Senate wants to pass the measure but the House is expected to convene briefly and adjourn without even voting on it.

Congress appears to have settled its own impasse over unemployment benefits and is expected today to approve another expansion for the long-term unemployed.

But Floridians won’t be able to get the additional funds unless state lawmakers sign off.

Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Boynton Beach, filed a bill that would extend the state’s June 5 expiration date for the long-term unemployed benefits and wrote a letter yesterday asking Crist to expand the session.

More than 35,000 Floridians a week are losing out on the extended benefits, Rader said.

“These are families who need this money because of the economic crisis in our state,” said Rader, who failed to convince lawmakers to pass a similar measure during the regular session to avoid having to come back during a special session to extend the deadline for the benefits.

Jobless workers spend $1.70 for each $1 in unemployment fund they receive, according to some estimates.

“It’s outrageous we would not act so that Floridians get the funds that they are entitled to,” said Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Gelber’s Democratic attorney general opponent, Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres, is also backing the measure. “It’s money for people who need it the most and who will spend it immediately.”

Rader acknowledged it is highly unlikely the session will be expanded but that “I am always hopeful that common sense and reason will prevail.”

McCollum wants $2.5 billion from BP just in case

Thursday, June 10th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum is asking BP to put $2.5 billion into an interest-earning escrow account to cover the state’s losses from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

McCollum’s requests is the latest in Florida candidates’ string of demands for cash from the oil giant.

A month ago, state Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat running to replace McCollum, asked BP to put at least $1 billion into escrow to cover possible damages.

McCollum and the other Florida Cabinet members were less than pleased with some of British Petroleum Vice President Robert Fryar’s Tuesday appearance before the panel.

Fryar told McCollum he did not know if BP has earmarks any funds to pay claims to Florida government, citizens or businesses resulting from the April 20 disaster.

University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith recently estimated the impact of the oil disaster on the state’s economy could range from $2.2 billion to nearly $11 billion.

McCollum’s wants BP to put $2.5 billion into a savings account and acknowledge that may not be enough.

No more statute of limitations on sex crimes against children

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida no longer has a statute of limitations on sex crimes committed on victims between the ages of 12 and 16.

Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law HB 525, ending the three-year statute of limitations that Palm Beach County lawyer Michael Dolce – raped repeatedly by his Maryland neighbor when he was seven years old – has spent six years trying to undo. Studies show that it is often 15 years before victims go public with their accusations.

Powerful Miami lobbyist Ron Book and his daughter Lauren Book-Lim joined Dolce’s crusade this year, taking on the Catholic Church that effectively quashed the effort in the past. Book-Lim was sexually abused and molested by the Book’s nanny over a period of years.

The House and Senate unanimously approved the measure before sending it to Crist, who signed it into law today without comment along with nearly three dozen other bills. The law, which goes into effect immediately, will apply only to new cases.

Greenacres Democrat Dave Aronberg sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Aronberg demands BP, others set up $1 billion oil spill fund

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dave Aronberg is demanding that BP and two other corporations involved in the April 22 oil rig blast threatening the Gulf Coast shoreline set up a $1 billion escrow account for the state’s recovery costs.

Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat who is running for attorney general, is chairman of the Senate Military Affairs and Domestic Security Committee that deals with emergency preparedness.

He said the state’s focus on BP for recovery costs needs to be expanded to include Deepwater Horizon rig owner and operator Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton.

The $25 million BP gave Florida to cover immediate clean-up costs “is by no means sufficient,” Aronberg wrote in a letter to Crist asking for the escrow account.

“We are looking at financial consequences of devastating proportions, to say nothing of the potential costs to our wildlife and environmental damages.
While we ready our shoreline as best we can, I urge you to call upon each of these companies to take greater financial responsibility and commit more dollars than the initial pledge by BP,” Aronberg wrote.

Halliburton was performing cement work on the well less than a day before the blast.

“This is especially alarming since Halliburton was also the cementer on the well that suffered a huge blowout last August off the coast of Australia. Tens of thousands of barrels of oil leaked from that well over 10 weeks before it was finally capped. Although the investigation continues, the suspicion is that either the cementing process or the cement itself may have been at fault,” Aronberg wrote.

Removal of statute of limitations on its way to governor

Monday, April 26th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The House and Senate unanimously did away with the statute of limitations on sexual crimes against children between the ages of 12 and 15 today, sending the bill to Gov. Charlie Crist for signature.

Palm Beach Gardens attorney Michael Dolce, who was repeatedly raped by his Maryland neighbor at the age of seven, has tried for six years to get the measure passed but the Catholic Church has thwarted his efforts.

Senate bill sponsor Dave Aronberg introduced Dolce, who watched from the public gallery and received a thank-you from Sen. Mike Fasano, who was acting as president of the chamber.

“Michael, on behalf of the Florida Senate, thank you for your good work, my friend, thank you,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.

Florida’s current laws gave children between the ages of 12 and 16 three years to file criminal charges although studies show that it is often 15 years before victims go public with their accusations.

“Overwhelming. Very, very grateful that we finally said to these monsters time will never protect them. The law will protect our kids first,” said Dolce, who launched a citizen’s initiative called “Protect Our Kids First” to amend the constitution to remove the statute of limitations because the legislature failed to change the law.

Also looking on were influential lobbyist Ron Book and his daugher, Lauren Book-Lim, whose nanny sexually molested her from the age of 11.

“This is a huge deal. It’s just incredible. We’re so excited,” Book-Lim said.

Up to 70 percent of child molesters walk free because of the time restriction that keeps their victims from pressing charges, said Aronberg.

“This bill is a long time coming. Because there is no statute of limitations for the pain of victims. There is no statute of limitations for the shame and humiliation,” said Aronberg, D-Greenacres.

The Senate approved the bill with 34-0 vote; the House passed it earlier today by a 114-0 vote.

Crist has indicated that he would sign the bill into law.

UPDATE: House passes ‘Corruption County’ priority ethics bill, Senate committee OKs tougher approach

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee unanimously approved (SB 902) a tougher measure than the House’s version.

The Florida House approved a measure that would allow counties and cities to go beyond current state law in fines and jail time for county officials and staff who violate local ethics ordinances or financial disclosure requirements.

Under the measure, counties like Palm Beach could double the current fine from $500 to $1,000 and extend jail time from 60 days to one year for corrupt officials.

The House approved the bill (HB 1301) – one of Palm Beach County’s top priorities this session – by a 111-1 vote today, but the Senate is taking a different approach.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee is about to combine the ethics proposal with two measures that would impose much harsher penalties on corrupt officials pushed by Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.

Both anti-corruption proposals are being blended with a measure (SB 902) that would increase the legislature’s oversight over state agencies’ contracting, a priority for powerful Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander, chairman of the committee.

One of the harsher measures would make it a crime for any public official to knowingly withhold information about a financial interest in something on they vote or cause to take place. It would would also require disclosure of financial interests that could benefit a family member.

Another would enhance penalties for crimes, such as official misconduct, that public officials commit in their official capacity.

The two stricter measures are sponsored by Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in corruption cases. The PBC-backed proposal is sponsored by Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres. The two colleagues are running against each other in a Democratic primary for attorney general.

McAuliffe said the changes in the law would make it possible for the state rather than federal officials to prosecute officials like the three former Palm Beach County commissioners and two city commissioners who went to prison on federal corruption charges.

Palm Beach County officials said those bills aren’t a priority and aren’t working to make sure those bills (SB 1076, 734) pass.

End to statute of limitations for child sex offender cases advances

Monday, April 19th, 2010 by Dara Kam

An effort to do away with the statute of limitations on child sex molestation cases for crimes against children between the ages of 12 and 16 is headed to the Senate floor after some tense negotiations this morning.

The Catholic Church and criminal defense lawyers oppose the measure and tried at the last minute to extend the time limits, now three years after the child reaches age 21.

Michael Dolce, a Royal Palm Beach lawyer who was sexually abused by a neighbor in his home state of Maryland when he was seven years old, has tried for six years to get the measure passed.

This year Dolce has powerful lobbyist Ron Book on his side. Book’s daughter Lauren was sexually molested by her nanny. Lauren Book-Lim is walking across the state to raise awareness and support for the issue and is expected to reach the Capitol tomorrow.

Sen. Alex Villalobos, a former prosecutor and Catholic, asked a series of questions showing his opposition to the measure because of the difficulty those accused of the crimes would have defending themselves after decades pass.

Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Committee Chairman Victor Crist recessed the committee to allow both sides to negotiate on setting a number of years instead of doing away with the time limits completely, sensing bill (SB 870) sponsor Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, may not have had the votes to pass it.

A heated discussion took place in the anteroom outside the committee.

“I don’t want a number. We’re past the time for numbers,” an irate Book told the bill’s opponents, saying he reached out to them two weeks ago but has had no response. “Two weeks have now passed. Nobody’s called me. No smoke signals. No carrier pigeons. No e-mails. Nothing.”

Dolce gave a hurried testimony as the clock ticked down on the meeting’s end.

“I simply ask for your support today. No child should have to walk in these shoes,” he concluded.

With less than two minutes left before the meeting’s end, the committee passed the bill 3-1, with Villalobos, R-Miami, voting against it.

The House version is also ready to be voted on by the full chamber.

Father of Polly Klaas lobbies to get rid of statute of limitations in child sexual molestation cases, Catholic Church fights to keep them

Thursday, April 8th, 2010 by Dara Kam

A decades-old scandal in which a Wisconsin priest is accused of molesting more than 200 deaf boys could be the saving grace for a proposed change to Florida law that the Catholic Church has fought for six years and is still fighting.

State law gives victims of certain sex offenses, including “non-forcible rape” of children age 12 and older, until they are 21 to press charges. Lawsuits must be filed before the victim reaches age 26.

Under Florida law, Wisconsin priest Lawrence C. Murphy, who died in 1999 after admitting he abused boys in his care at a school for the deaf and blind, could not be charged with the crimes if he were still alive and neither could the religious institution that allowed the molestation to continue.

For the first time in six years, proposals in the House and Senate that would do away with the statutes of limitations have a chance of passing.

The measure has drawn the attention of Marc Klaas, the father of Polly Klaas, a 12-year-old California girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1993.

Klaas wrote to senators asking them to support SB 870, HB 525 so that victims of the horrific crimes can get justice.

“I understand that the Catholic Church has been one of the primary opponents to this legislation over the years. The fact that the Catholic Church is embroiled in yet another pedophile Priest sex scandal that reaches into the Vatican itself should diminish the power of their opposition as well as explain their virulent opposition to SB 870/HB 525,” Klaas wrote in an e-mail.

Read the full story here.

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.
(more…)

‘Corruption County’ crackdown cruises through House committee

Monday, March 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

A “Corruption County”-inspired bill that would beef up penalties for county officials who violate ethics ordinances moved forward in a House committee this afternoon.

The changes that would allow counties to go beyond current state law in fines and jail time for county officials and staff who violate local ethics ordinances or financial disclosure requirements.

Under the measure, counties like Palm Beach could double the current fine from $500 to $1,000 and extend jail time from 60 days to one year for corrupt officials.

The House Public Safety and Domestic Security Policy Committee unanimously approved Rep. Kevin Rader’s bill (HB 1301) today.

Rader, D-Delray Beach, and fellow Palm Beacher Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, sponsored the proposals at the request of Palm Beach County officials.

A $1,000 fine may not seem like much of a price to pay for politicos who’ve been convicted of taken thousands of dollars in bribes, steering hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to their buddies or voting on multi-million dollar deals in which they have a financial stake.

But, Rader said, the fine “and a year in jail is a step in the right direction.”

Palm Beach County recently established an ethics panel in an effort to shed its “Corruption County” image. In the past four years, three former county commissioners and two West Palm Beach city commissioners were sent to prison on corruption charges.

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