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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.

Senate Dems put brakes on Internet cafe ban…almost

Thursday, April 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Senate Democrats won’t block the Internet cafe ban from rolling over, after all. The caucus never took a formal vote and several members were absent during a discussion.

Senate Democrats had intended to put the brakes on an Internet café ban that would also shut down “senior arcades” popular with elderly residents in Palm Beach County.

Sen. John Thrasher had hoped to get a floor vote on his bill (SB 1030) today. But the Democratic caucus, with the support of two Palm Beach County senators, balked at rushing the measure through instead of allowing the normal procedure to take place. “Rolling over” a bill to third reading for passage requires a two-thirds majority, or 27 votes, meaning that Republicans need the support of at least one of the 14 Senate Democrats. Despite concerns about the measure, the Democrats aren’t expected to block it from moving forward.

The House last month passed a similar version just 10 days after authorities accused Allied Veterans of the World of running a $300 million illegal gambling ring posing as a veterans’ charity.

The multi-state sting also prompted Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who was a consultant for Allied Veterans during her time in the Florida House, to resign on March 12.

Sen. Oscar Braynon called Legislature’s rush to pass the bills “a knee-jerk reaction to a federal investigation.”

A delay would have given the senior arcades, who have launched an all-out assault in an effort to get lawmakers to exempt their industry from the all-out ban, until next week to try to drum up more support. On Tuesday, the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association bused around 80 seniors, some in wheelchairs and using canes, from Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties to the Capitol to attend a committee meeting. The elderly patrons made impassioned pleas save the centers that cater to the elderly and where the customers play electronic games that resemble slot machines.

“There’s great concerns in the senior community in Palm Beach County. Quite frankly, if the adult arcades are not taken out of it, I may not be supporting the bill whatsoever,” Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, said during a Senate Democratic Caucus meeting this afternoon shortly before the session began at 2 p.m.

Supporters of the Internet cafes contend that shuttering the storefront gaming centers will put 13,000 people out of work. Two committees took testimony on the measure before it reached the floor today.

“There’s statistics being floated around. I’d like to found out if they’re true, that in one fell swoop 13,000 people, minimum, are going to be out of a job. This has reaching implications for this legislation. I may support it. I may not. But when that many jobs are at stake, that big of an economic impact, allegations being made all different which ways, we need to have this aired out in the open,” Abruzzo said.

Tearful Senate honors late Larcenia Bullard

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 by Dara Kam

An emotional Florida Senate stood for a moment of silence to honor the late Larcenia Bullard, a long-time legislator who died Saturday at age 65.

Bullard’s son, Dwight, took her place in the Senate last year after Bullard, a Miami Democrat who served in the Legislature for nearly two decades, left office due to term limits.

A tearful Bullard encouraged his colleagues to emulate his mother, known for her sense of humor, compassion and inquisitiveness.

“She walked the halls smiling, hugging, speaking to everyone. Her place in history is set. My challenge to you is to take a piece of her spirit with you and learn to love the people,” Bullard said.

The Senate will hold a memorial service in Tallahassee on Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the chamber, followed by a reception in the Senate Democratic Office, Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith said on the floor.

“I guarantee you there will be key lime pie,” said Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. Bullard was responsible for the pie becoming the state’s state pie, and annually distributed slices of the South Florida treat to the members.

UPDATE: Lawmaker asks Scott to speed up ‘stand your ground’ task force, convene special session

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: A spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott said “it makes no sense whatsoever” to convene a special session or expedite the task force until the investigations into Trayvon Martin’s shooting death are concluded.

“The Governor has already convened a task force that will review all the facts of the case and make recommendations to him. It makes no sense whatsoever to call a special session before the FBI, FDLE and special prosecutor have completed their investigations, or before the task force has reviewed the facts, or before recommendations based on those facts have been presented to the governor,” Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said in an e-mail.

Waiting up to a year to start investigating the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law is too long, state Sen. Chris Smith said today.

Smith, a black lawyer from Fort Lauderdale and the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, is asking Gov. Rick Scott to speed up the task force the governor ordered to look into Florida’s first-in-the-nation “Stand Your Ground law” that allows individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who said he shot Trayvon in self-defense, has provoked lawmakers like Smith to demand an investigation into the use of the law.

Scott conceded to demands from black lawyers and civil rights activists’ demands for an outside prosecutor to take over the investigation into the Feb. 26 shooting. And Scott said he wants a special task force to look into the use of the law, passed in 2005.

But Scott’s given State Attorney Angela Corey of Jacksonville, the special prosecutor in the case, up to a year to complete her investigation. And the task force won’t meet until her inquiry officially ends.

That’s too long, Smith said in a statement released Tuesday. Smith wants the task force to start meeting next week and a special legislative session to start a month later.

“The questionable incidents and lives lost under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law did not begin, nor do I expect it to end, with the tragedy in Sanford,” Smith wrote in a letter hand-delivered to Scott’s office today. “While the special prosecutor sets about unraveling the facts in the case, and whether self defense was a legitimate factor, the law remains intact – with all the same components still in place for more killings and additional claims of self defense, warranted or not.”

Smith, then a Florida House member, argued against the “Castle Doctrine” proposal in 2005 before lawmakers passed it and Gov. Jeb Bush signed it into law with NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer by his side. He and other critics say the law gives vigilantes and others cover when they incite deadly confrontations. Smith said he intends to file legislation to tweak the law. But supporters say the law does not give permission to anyone to pursue and confront anyone but rather to stand their ground when they are threatened.

It’s highly unlikely the GOP-dominated legislature would revisit the law prior to the November elections, according to observers including Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R- St. Augustine, a former Republican Party of Florida chairman. The NRA pushed the law and is a powerful lobby in a crucial election year.

But Rep. Perry Thurston, a black lawyer from Plantation, said that is all the more reason why the issue needs to be addressed now.

“There can’t be a better time than now for them to take it on,” Thurston, incoming House Democratic Leader, said. “The right thing to do is address it sooner rather than delay it.”

Labor advises Senate Dems to lay groundwork for elections lawsuit

Thursday, May 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

With the Senate poised to pass an elections overhaul opposed by the League of Women Voters and other voting-rights groups, a labor union leader prompted Senate Democrats to ask loads of questions not just to find out more information about the bill (HB 1355) but to help prepare for lawsuits.

“The questions you ask lays the basis and foundation for the challenges on this,” Florida AFL-CIO president Mike Williams advised the Senate Democratic caucus this morning.

The sweeping elections package includes such strict regulation of third parties conducting voter registration drives that the League of Women Voters will likely no longer participate, the league’s lobbyist Jessica Lowe told the caucus.

Much of the caucus discussion this morning centered around a Medicaid overhaul crafted in secret by GOP House and Senate leaders over the past few days. The bill (SB 1972) is slated to be heard today in the Senate although it has not yet been released to the public. Senate HHS chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who’s crafting the proposal, spoke with Democrats this morning about it but failed to win support.

Democrats who wanted to file amendments to the bill were told they can’t until the original bill is filed.

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