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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.

Delray Beach CRA audit sparks tensions between new mayor and Sen. Abruzzo

Thursday, April 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

An audit into the Delray Beach CRA’s spending has erupted into a face-off between new Mayor Cary Glickstein and state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington.

Abruzzo is chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, which unanimously ordered the review on Monday after a request from Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. The request for the audit comes in part over concerns about more than $300,000 spent on the Arts Garage.

At his first city commission meeting the following day since being elected after a bitter battle against incumbent Tom Carney, Glickstein lashed back at Abruzzo.

“I find the timing of this audit suspect and politically motivated,” Glickstein said Tuesday night.

He accused Abruzzo, a lobbyist for the law firm of Weiss, Handler & Cornwell, of a conflict of interest because, he said, the law firm also represents the city.

“Further I find it curious that notwithstanding a $65 million no-bid contract to a trash hauler which ran directly counter to our county director inspector general’s directive to bid the contract there was silence from Sen. Abruzzo but when spurious e-mails rife with innuendo are sent, Sen. Abruzzo jumps into action,” he went on. “Perhaps Sen. Abruzzo’s audit committee should expand its audit to include the waste management debacle if it’s genuinely interested in how Delray Beach conducts business.”

Glickstein told City Attorney Brian Shutt he wants details on the contract with the law firm before the next commission meeting.

And he ordered a public records request of both Clemens and Abruzzo “so we can determine…why Abruzzo and Clemens are now so interested in our CRA.”

The commission backed Glickstein on the request after City Attorney Brian Shutt told Glickstein he could not independently seek the records without the support of the commission.

Abruzzo fired back at Glickstein Wednesday night, saying his law firm does not lobby for the city but a separate entity, All Florida Solutions, created by the law firm’s partners does.

“I welcome all public records requests from Mayor Glickstein. Any legislator at any time can request an audit of a governmental entity for any reason,” Abruzzo said in a telephone interview. “The mayor’s comments about the Weiss, Handler & Cornwell law firm and my lobbying and lawmaking activity are wrong and inaccurate. I have never been a lobbyist for the city of Delray Beach. I am also prohibited by my job as a senator to lobby for any city to the state. In addition, the law firm Weiss, Handler & Cornwell for which I am employed is not the lobbyist for Delray Beach. I will not be deterred from doing my job by comments aimed at hurting me financially even if they are false. I would resign my private sector work and reduce my income before I would let it be used as pressure. Mayor Glickstein needs to learn about checking information before making comments. I would prefer to attribute it to his lack of experience in holding public office rather than negative, willful intent. I look forward to the completion of the audit.”

State orders audit of Delray Beach CRA

Monday, April 1st, 2013 by Dara Kam

A joint legislative committee ordered the state auditor general to conduct a review of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency based on complaints questioning the CRA’s spending on the Arts Garage.

Joint Legislative Auditing Committee Chairman Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, said the audit, requested by Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, should be done sometime this year and hopefully will put to rest concerns about whether the CRA is allowed to funnel money to non-profit organizations.

Abruzzo said the committee gave Auditor General David Martin broad leeway to look into how the CRA is spending their money and if there are any conflicts of interest.

Gerry Franciosa, president of an organization called Delray Citizens Coalition Board, last month asked the Delray Beach Mayor Tom Carney and other city officials mayor to find out whether the CRA is breaking the law.

The CRA budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year includes $310,735 for funding to support the operations of
the Arts Garage. The CRA spent $304,795 on the facility last year, according to a staff analysis of the audit request.

According to a 2010 opinion by former Attorney General Bill McCollum, grants to CRAs to “promote tourism and economic development, as well as to nonprofits providing socially beneficial programs, would appear outside the scope of the community redevelopment act.”

Abruzzo said that’s how he interprets the law as well, but is hoping an audit will clear things up.

“It’s all hearsay at this point until we get an exact audit. Hopefully (the auditor general) comes back and says everything’s on the up and up and there’s nothing wrong here. They’re good. That would be great. Then the concerns are washed. But if he comes back and there’s issues, then we’ll have to go from there,” Abruzzo said.

The auditor general could refer findings to prosecutors if the audit finds that laws have been broken and will report the results to Abruzzo’s committee, probably sometime next year, Abruzzo said.

Competing endorsements in Palm Beach County senate races

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County legislative candidates nailed down several endorsements recently, including support from polar opposites in the Senate District 27 primary contest between Democratic state Reps. Jeff Clemens and Mack Bernard.

The all-Palm Beach County senate district race is shaping up to be a business vs. labor union battle, not an unusual platform for many campaigns. Except this race is between two Democrats, who rarely receive glowing endorsements from business-backed lobbies (except in Democratic primaries.)

Two of the state’s biggest labor unions – the AFL-CIO and SEIU – are backing state Rep. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, Clemens’ campaign announced today. The AFL-CIO also endorsed Clemens in his run for the House seat he now holds.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, nailed down an endorsement from the Florida Chamber of Commerce today. Bernard already has the endorsement of one of Florida’s other top business lobbies – Associated Industries of Florida. The newly drawn District 27 seat stretches generally west of the turnpike in Palm Beach County.

The Chamber also endorsed state Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington. Abruzzo will face off against the winner of a GOP primary between Melanie Peterson and Geoff Sommers.

Avoiding what might have been a brutal primary against Abruzzo, Sachs is running for the new Democratic-leaning District 34, a Palm Beach-Broward seat, against Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale.

House committee approves ban on Internet cafes

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A measure banning Internet cafes in Florida cleared its first hurdle in the Florida House over the objections of two Palm Beach County Democrats and setting up a stand-off with the Senate that wants to regulate the “casinos on the corner.”

Lawmakers need to shutter the cafes because they prey on the poor and elderly and are highly addictive, said bill sponsor Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood.

Plakon also cited reports showing that welfare recipients are using state-issued debit cards to at ATMs at the facilities to underwrite their gambling habit.

Lawmakers can pass his bill (HB 3), do nothing or regulate the facilities, which could cost the state $200 million a year by invalidating a deal Florida has with the Seminole Indians, Plakon said.

“The regulation bill would be the effect of us authorizing 1,000 gambling locations in this state,” Plakon said.

To help persuade the Business and Consumer Affairs Committee to support his bill, Plakon pointed to a San Francisco newspaper that pilloried Florida lawmakers for failing to shut down the cafes.

“This is San Francisco laughing at us,” Plakon said. “San Francisco, mind you members, is laughing at us.”

Cafe customers purchase Internet time, which they can use to browse the Web or play free “sweepstakes” games, in which computer credit or time is won. Those credits can be redeemed for cash.

Palm Beach County commissioners recently issued a moratorium blocking any new cafes from opening in unincorporated areas.
Industry backers say shutting the cafes down would put thousands of workers in the unemployment line.

“What strikes me is the jobs. It seems like some funny, fuzzy math but there are thousands, possibly tens of thousands of jobs at risk,” said Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, on the losing side of a 10-5 vote.

Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, voted against the measure but said he was troubled by the bill needed more information about the ability the use of welfare money at the cafes.

“This is one of the sickest votes I’ve taken since I’ve been here,” Bernard said.

Lawmakers react to General McChrystal ouster

Thursday, June 24th, 2010 by Dara Kam

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Here’s what some legislators who’ve served in the military had to say about President Barack Obama’s firing of General Stanley McChrystal, the loose-lipped former commander of the war in Afghanistan who got the boot yesterday over his tell-all interview with The Rolling Stone.

Sen. Mike Bennett, who served four tours of duty in Vietnam in the U.S. Navy, harshly criticized Obama in part because McChrystal had such a good relationship with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and was making progress in the war although some critics question how successful the campaign has been thus far.

“I think both of them expressed very bad judgment. Two wrongs actually don’t make a right. I don’t think that telling the truth is something you should get fired over. He exercised extremely bad judgment. I think the president firing him was just as bad a judgment. He should have figured out another way to reprimand him,” Bennett, R-Bradenton said.

But Rep. Rich Glorioso, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who spent 27 years in the military, disagreed.

“If I was the president I would have fired him also. Even if what he’s saying is absolutely correct, there’s a way for him to do that. But putting it out in a magazine like that..You can’t have a general do those kinds of things. It doesn’t lead to good order and discipline,” Glorioso, R-Plant City, said. “If it was one of my squadron commanders, I’d have fired him. You may not like the person but you have to respect the position. There’s a proper place for you to exercise your beliefs within the chain of command and that’s where it belonged.”

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