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Scott’s legal team comes to defense of state worker drug testing bill

Friday, February 24th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State Rep. Jimmie Smith isn’t an attorney, as House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders pointed out during an “I’m-a-lawyer-and-you’re-not” debate over Smith’s bill that would require random drug testing of all state employees. In fact, Smith, R-Inverness, has a G.E.D.

But Gov. Rick Scott’s crack legal team has come to Smith’s defense on the controversial measure, similar to an executive order issued by Scott last year and argued in federal court on Wednesday. The ACLU and the union representing government workers sued Scott over the drug tests, and he backed away from his “pee in a cup” policy, limiting the drug tests to Department of Corrections workers.

Scott’s office provided a legal analysis for Smith, which he distributed to members of the House State Affairs Committee Friday morning before the panel approved the bill (HB 1205) by a 9-6 vote.

The 13-page memo, written by Scott’s deputy general counsel and Harvard Law School graduate Jesse Panuccio, outlines the legal arguments Panuccio made in the federal court case defending the drug testing, and refers to several cases in which courts ruled that drug testing government employees was acceptable.

Smith referred to the Scott’s packet several times during question-and-answer period and held his own against Democrats, who insisted the random, suspicionless, drug tests are illegal and an insult to state workers.

The requirement would further demoralize state workers, who have gone without a pay raise for six years and last year were forced to contribute 3 percent of their salaries towards their pensions, argued Rep. Dwight Taylor, D-Daytona Beach.

“Now you want them to prove they’re not doing drugs. In other words, you’re guilty. Now prove that you’re innocent. That’s not the way government should operate,” Taylor said.

Smith said he wants to cut back on Florida’s drug problem and that state workers should be treated the same as those who work for private companies, who are allowed to require drug tests.

“Let me be very clear. Drug abuse is a very real problem in the state of Florida,” Smith said. But, he insisted, “This bill does not suggest state workers are more likely to be drug users.”

House panel narrows the menu of redistricting maps

Monday, January 9th, 2012 by John Kennedy

House panels Monday narrowed the roster of proposed redistricting plans for Congress and the state House, – settling on new maps that proponents say help keep more cities and counties together within individual district boundaries.

In the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, three proposed maps were approved  on 10-4 votes, with Democrats locked in opposition. The House earlier unveiled seven proposed congressional plans and five ways to redraw state House districts.

A separate panel Monday also reduced to three the number of House plans slated for later review by the full House Redistricting Committee.

Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, who led opponents to the congressional proposals, said lawmakers should take the proposed plans on the road for another round of public hearings — similar to those conducted through the summer when no maps were available for review.

Another critic of the plans, Jim Roach, a Cape Coral businessman and Democratic candidate for Congress, also argued that the plans should be rejected because they tend to pack Democratic registered voters into districts.

Roach’s analysis of the proposals for 27 congressional districts — up from the state’s current 25 districts, because of population gains in the 2010 Census — showed that as many as 14 proposed districts are Republican leaning, in terms of registered voters. The plans create a maximum of 11 districts that are Democratic leaning, Roach said.

Democrats currently command a more than 500,000-voter advantage over Republicans in Florida.

But 19 of the state’s 25 members of Congress are Republicans — a disparity Democrats attribute to gerrymandering in the last redistricting go-around in 2002.

Roach said that in the proposed 11 districts where Democratic voters dominate, they outnumber Republicans by more than 20 percent — an overwhelming advantage that reduces the party’s overall strength and ability to compete in neighboring districts.

“That’s packing,” Roach said.

Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, co-chairman of the subcommittee, countered saying the proposed maps were drawn without consideration of voter registraion totals. Legg said voter-approved Amendments 5 and 6 to the state constitution require that lawmakers draw boundaries without consideration of political party or incumbents.

Legg said lawmakers and staff members steered clear of such data when crafting the maps.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, also said Taylor’s call for more public hearings would likely only prompt accusations that ruling Republicans were seeking to delay redistricting.  Another road show also could threaten the likelihood of getting new boundaries approved in time for candidate qualifying in June, Plakon said.

“It’s probably impractical to do,” Plakon said.

The three proposals approved Monday were scheduled to go before the full House Redistricting Committee later this month.

In Palm Beach County, the plans are identical. The most dramatic changes being made reduce the eight-county district now served U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, to four counties, including northern Palm Beach County. The Broward-Palm Beach county district held by U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, loses a key, Republican-dominated portion of the county’s north coastline to Rooney.

West’s district becomes more Broward-oriented and gains more registered Democrats, likely making his 2012 re-election bid tougher.

The three state House proposals all create a new, Hispanic-oriented district in Palm Beach County, centered in the Lake Worth-Palm Springs area.

To create the district, many of the voters are moved from the district currently served by Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. Clemens last month announced that he  expected to run for a still-to-be-determined Senate seat in Palm Beach County, saying he was frustrated by how voters in his District 89 were being scattered into other districts under House plans.

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