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PBC Commission candidate takes issue with county meeting notice

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 by Jennifer Sorentrue

Palm Beach County Commission candidate Andy Schaller is questioning why county administrators did not notify him about a community forum held Tuesday night to discuss issues facing the central-western part of the county.

Schaller has taken aim at county officials for notifying his opponents about a county-run meeting held late last year to discuss a road project in his neighborhood, Palm Beach Ranchettes.

In an email to county commissioners and administrators Wednesday, Schaller questioned why candidates weren’t also notified of Tuesday’s meeting, which was attended by nearly 200 residents. The proposed 6,500-home Minto West development dominated the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I did not receive any email correspondence, telephone calls or postal mail to inform me of last night’s Minto Property meeting,” Schaller wrote in the email. “Why was I not given the same notification that other candidates received about the Ranchettes a much smaller project in the district and have far less impact to the entire district?”

Last month, Schaller accused county administrators of trying to block his chances of winning the District 6 race by inappropriately giving his opponents information about a road project that could affect voters in his neighborhood.

County Administrator Bob Weisman has defended the notification, saying possible extension of Lyon Road through the Ranchettes community is a big issue for the district.

Weisman authorized county managers to alert all of the four candidates who have announced they are running for term-limited Commissioner Jess Santamaria’s District 6 seat about a community meeting held last month to discuss the road project.

Palm Beach County can’t sue Legislature over gun law, appeals court rules

Friday, June 28th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County commissioners won’t fight a ruling from the 1st District Court of Appeals upholding a lower court decision in their battle to undo a gun law that imposes fines and other penalties against local officials.

The appeals court agreed with Leon County judge John Cooper, who ruled last year that the county can’t sue the Florida House or the Florida Senate over the 2011 law that bans local officials from imposing gun laws.

The 2011 law imposes a $5,000 fine and removal from office for local officials who violate it.

A county attorney on Friday said the commission won’t appeal Thursday’s ruling but the suit against Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi will proceed.

County commissioners argued that the law is unconstitutional and that the sanctions “are simply a form of political bullying that serves no governmental purpose” and have a “chilling effect.”

Palm Beach County Democrats file universal background gun check bill

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Rep. Lori Berman, Sen. Maria Sachs, Rep. Bobby Powell

Acknowledging their proposal to close a “gun show loophole” is a long shot, two Democratic Palm Beach County lawmakers are hoping their identical bills will at least create a debate about the issue during the 2013 legislative session now underway.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, pitched their identical “Universal Background Check Act” bills (HB 1343, SB 1640) that would require background check every time a gun is sold.

“I am not so sold on the idea that this bill is going to pass. I’m being very candid with you,” Sachs told reporters after a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “But let’s have the discussion. Let’s bring everybody to the table and let’s have this discussion so that we have a gun policy in this state that’s reflective of the diversity of the state.”

Currently, a person buying a weapon in a gun store must pass law enforcement background checks, but persons buying arms at gun shows or privately from an owner do not, meaning they could be felons or otherwise prohibited from owning weapons.

Sachs and Berman, joined by county commissioners Mary Lou Berger, Paulette Burdick and Shelley Vana, former commissioner Burt Aaronson and state Rep. Bobby Powell, D-Riviera Beach, said they both support Second Amendment rights.

But Berman cited figures from the Coalition to End Gun Violence that showed that background checks are only completed on about 60 percent of the gun sales in the country.

“The issue is that we need to stop the proliferation of people having guns and we need to make sure it’s all being done in a correct, proper and legal manner and that anybody who’s buying a gun has to do it through the proper channels. And that’s what this bill tries to address,” she said.

The bill would require anyone who wants to transfer or sell a gun to use a licensed gun dealer to conduct the transaction. The dealer would be responsible for the background check. If the buyer is ineligible to purchase the gun, the dealer would have to run a background check on the seller in order to return it.

If neither person passes the background requirements, the dealer would have to turn over the gun to the local sheriff within 24 hours.

“This is not a gun show loophole bill. It is a universal background check bill. And it is so brazen it even includes confiscation of firearms,” said National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, a former president of the national association.

But Vana, a former state representative, said the bill makes sense.

“This is a no-nonsense, non-radical method of trying to rein in the terror that has rained down on our citizens,” Vana said.

Hammer says federal law already makes it a felony to sell a gun to anyone a seller knows or reasonably should have known is prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

The bill goes way beyond “fixing a perceived problem,” Hammer said.

“It’s not about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals. It’s about making criminals out of law abiding people and taking their guns.”

Scott tells lawmakers to shutter Internet cafés: ‘I don’t believe in it.’

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott said this morning he wants lawmakers to outlaw Internet cafés rather than regulate them as Senate leaders are proposing.

“I don’t believe that the Internet locations are legal or should be legal,” Scott told reporters this morning. “It’s an area that I think doesn’t make sense. I don’t believe in it.”

A House committee passed a measure banning the “casinos on the corner” yesterday but the Senate appears to favor a proposal that would regulate the cafés which operate as “sweepstakes.” Customers pay for Internet time, which they can use to browse the Web or play the games in which computer time or credit is won. Critics say the games are highly addictive and prey on the poor.

Palm Beach County commissioners recently issued a moratorium blocking any new cafes from opening in unincorporated areas.

Scott rejected suggestions that the games are not as bad as the Lottery. Scott’s administration wants the Lottery to sell more tickets this year to help pay for public schools. Scott said the state authorized the Lottery years ago.

“It generates money for our schools. We’re not going to change that,” he said.

Palm Beach County Democrats back bills to bar guns from public buildings

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Trying to fix what they call a glitch in a state gun law that went into effect in October, two Delray Beach Democrats are pushing a measure that would make it illegal to bring firearms into child care centers and public buildings.

Sen. Maria Sachs and Rep. Lori Berman filed bills that would change a new law approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott that went into effect in October. The new law, which includes civil penalties and removal from office for local officials who ignore it, forced state agencies, municipalities and counties such as Palm Beach to scrap hundreds of measures dealing with guns.

After the law went into effect, state police were also forced to reverse their policy and allow firearms to be brought into the Capitol although weapons are still barred from legislative committee meetings. The same law applies to local government meetings – guns are permitted in the building but not where officials are publicly gathered.

Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach

“The same rule should apply to the building where the meeting is taking place,” Berman said.

Under the new law, people are allowed to bring guns into child care centers but are still barred from bringing them into public schools or college and university campuses.

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach

“If you’re not allowed to carry a gun into a school where children are five years old, I’m sure the law should extend to those who are four, or three or two,” Sachs, a former prosecutor, said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Palm Beach County Commission, which unanimously voted to support the bills (SB 1340, HB 1087), last month filed a lawsuit against Scott and others over the law, arguing that it is unconstitutional and that the sanctions “are simply a form of political bullying that serves no governmental purpose” and have a “chilling effect.”

Commissioner Shelley Vana, a former state representative, stood beside Berman and Sachs at a press conference announcing the proposals this morning.

She said their effort will make Floridians, especially children, safer and called it “another major step in rectifying a tremendous wrong and helping local governments keep their citizens safe.”

The measures are unlikely to gain traction in the GOP-dominated legislature, especially in an election year. The National Rifle Association pushed the new law last year.

But Sachs said the issue is one of public safety, not partisanship.

“I know Palm Beach is a pretty progressive county…but I know that every other county will follow us,” she said.

Palm Beach County Commission sues state over ‘political bullying’ gun law

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Palm Beach County Commission has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, the Florida House and the Florida Senate today over a gun law that that went into effect on Oct. 1. Local officials who violate the law could be removed from office and face a $5,000 fine.

The sanctions “are simply a form of political bullying that serves no governmental purpose” and have a “chilling effect,” the lawsuit reads.

The commission’s lawsuit complains that the new law, sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers because it gives the governor the ability to remove local officials from office and strips local officials of immunity from lawsuits.

Under current law, the governor is only allowed to suspend local officials and the Florida Senate has the power to remove them or reinstate them.

“Threatened removal of individual commissioners in a matter that is consistent with the terms of the Florida Constitution is political overreaching and political bullying that serves no legitimate governmental purpose,” Amy Taylor Petrick, an attorney for the county, wrote in the lawsuit filed in the Palm Beach County Circuit Court today.

The lawsuit asks the court to find that the law is unconstitutional, stop the governor from being able to remove local officials from office and order that they can’t be fined for breaking the law.

Negron said the penalties are necessary because city and county commissioners have ignored a law that gives the legislature the discretion to regulate gun laws.

After the law went into effect, municipalities, counties and state agencies were forced to scrap hundreds of measures dealing with firearms and could no longer bar people from being guns into government buildings, including the state Capitol.

“Political disputes should be resolved in the elected government arena rather than in courtrooms. So we’ll see where it goes from here,” said Negron, who had not seen the lawsuit Tuesday evening.

Negron, R-Stuart, said he does not intend to file a bill to repeal the law during the legislative session that begins next month.

“I would consider that just as I have to follow federal law and I have to follow county laws and city laws when I’m in their counties and cities, they should follow the preemption of the state law then nobody has anything to worry about,” Negron, R-Stuart, said.

Spokeswomen for Bondi and House Speaker Dean Cannon said their lawyers are reviewing the lawsuit.

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, who pushed the bill, called the lawsuit un-American.

“They’re using taxpayer dollars to try to keep from being punished for violating the law? That’s exactly the American way, is it?” she said.

PBC Commish Chairman Aaronson pleads with Crist to let $175K in budget stand

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Burt Aaronson asked Gov. Charlie Crist to keep the lid on his veto pen regarding $175,000 in the state budget for the county’s juvenile assessment center.

Crist, who has until Friday to use his line-item veto on the $70 billion budget, is expected to axe tens of millions of dollars in local projects tucked into the state spending plan. His office is finishing up work on the budget today and is likely to release the final product tomorrow.

The $175,000 is part of a $25.3 million project to design and build a new complex that will house both the county juvenile assessment center and the juvenile detention center and was recommended by state Department of Juvenile Justice.

“We believe housing these two facilities together will enable the Department to provide wraparound services to at-risk families and will lead to increased efficiency in meeting the needs of these children,” Aaronson wrote in a letter to Crist sent yesterday.

The funding is a county priority, Aaronson wrote, to replace the current assessment center shared by the school district, DJJ, the county, the state attorney and others.

DJJ currently leases space from the airport and subleases it to the other agencies, but the lease is scheduled to expire soon.

‘Corruption County’ ethics package en route to governor

Friday, April 30th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate gave final approval to a measure pushed by the Palm Beach County Commission 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.

The measure now heads to Gov. Charlie Crist.

Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat running for attorney general, said he sponsored the bill (SB 1980) on behalf of county officials after “three of the seven county commissioners ended up in jail” on public corruption charges.

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 refused to pass a harsher public corruption measure (SB 902) pushed by Palm Beach County’s State Attorney Michael McAuliffe.

His anti-corruption proposals, sponsored by former federal prosecutor and Aronberg primary opponent Sen. Dan Gelber, would have made 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 have required 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.

‘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.’”

Burt Aaronson: The ‘Godfather’ of Palm Beach County?

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Recognizing Palm Beach County day today, PBC home-boy Sen. Dave Aronberg recited some facts about the state’s largest county before giving a shout-out to some county officials watching the Senate session from the East Gallery.

Aronberg, D-Greenacres, introduced PBC Commissioner Burt Aaronson as “The Godfather of Palm Beach County.”

Aaronson was first elected to the commission in 1992.

Aronberg’s intro may be considered a dubious distinction, considering that three of Aaronson’s former county commission colleagues are in prison for corruption charges.

Crist sets special elections for Taylor House seat

Thursday, July 9th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Taylor

Taylor

A special primary election is slated for Aug. 25 to fill outgoing state House Rep. Priscilla Taylor’s District 84 seat.

Gov. Charlie Crist set the special primary date and a general special election for Sept. 22 to replace the West Palm beach Democrat, whom he appointed to replace Palm Beach County Commissioner Addie Greene.

Democrats Mack Bernard and Hank Harper, a former state representative, have already filed to fill Taylor’s seat next year, when term limits would have forced Taylor out of office.

$2 rental-car surcharge for Tri-Rail (with strings) tucked into CSX bill

Monday, April 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

State lawmakers moved toward approving a new $2 rental-car surcharge to pay for Tri-Rail but with strings attached that supporters of the commuter rail line make the proposal virtually worthless.

The measure, tucked into a controversial Central Florida commuter rail bill, would allow county commissions to approve the fee hike temporarily by a super-majority vote but later require voter approval of a referendum to keep the surcharge intact.

The state now matches contributions from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties to pay for South Florida’s fast-growing commuter rail service. But local authorities have said their contributions will decline or disappear as they grapple to slash spending due to steep declines in property tax collections.

The surcharge would raise about $45 million a year for Tri-Rail.

Freshman Sen. Chris Smith sponsored an amendment including the referendum in exchange for a ‘yes’ vote on the Central Florida rail proposal in which the state would pay more than $600 million to CSX transportation giant to purchase its freight line and pay for improvements on its other lines. The state would also contribute more than $400 million to create the new commuter line. The proposed SunRail line is one of Gov. Charlie Crist’s priorities.

Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelltion, who serves on the commission that oversees Tri-Rail, said the proposal will do nothing to help the rail line at a time of record-breaking ridership.

“Make no mistake. I’m a proponent of rail. That’s not our issue. The issue is in order for rail to be successful and to keep from breaking the local taxpayers’ back you have to have a dedicated funding source,” the former House representative said. “We’re the only state in the nation that does not have a dedicated funding source for rail. I mean, that’s a sad commentary for Florida. That’s not a very good signal to send to Congress at all.”
(more…)

Tax hater Haridopolos blesses tax loophole closure

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Lawson

Lawson

[caption id="attachment_4574" align="alignright" width="75" caption="Haridopolos"]Haridopolos[/caption]A Democratic-backed bill to end a real estate tax loophole, which has been costing the state as much as $200 million a year, got the support of one of the Senate’s most tax-hating Republicans this morning.

The loophole allows sellers to avoid paying a state tax — the documentary stamp fee collected on real estate deals — by arranging transactions so they aren’t classified as sales of real property.

In a Palm Beach County deal three years ago, three properties sold collectively for $600 million but reaped only $2.10 in doc stamps.

Because of the loophole, the state lost $4.2 million, something Florida can ill afford to continue given its current economic anemia, argued Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson, the bill (SB 2430) sponsor.

“If we had sold 1,500 homes priced at $400,000, it would have generated the amount of money generated on that one sale of $600 million,” Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting this morning.
(more…)

Palm Beach County Day? Who knew?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate passed a resolution recognizing Palm Beach County’s centennial, but the fanfare of the county’s previous legislative days is no longer.

In better economic times, the county’s legislative days featured swank cocktail parties and plenty of swag, including loads of Mardi Gras-style beads with a commemorative medallion marking the year and flashing plastic ice cubes emblazoned with the county logo.

Not any more.

“Instead of receptions we’ve had meetings and instead of beads we’ve had nothing,” said Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, introducing some hometown celebs (PBC Commissioner Jeff Koons and Lantana Town Manager Mike Bornstein, who also chairs the county centennial committee) in the gallery.

This year’s no-frills Palm Beach County Day fete is limited to food and drink served on the Capitol courtyard tomorrow at 5:30.

Burdick to run for PBC commission

Monday, March 2nd, 2009 by George Bennett

Burdick

Burdick

Longtime school board member Paulette Burdick tells our Laura Green that she will run for the Palm Beach County commission seat of term-limited Jeff Koons in 2010.

Burdick is a Democrat whose current term on the nonpartisan school board runs through 2012.

Term-limited state Rep. Mary Brandenburg, D-West Palm Beach, has also opened a campaign for Koons’ District 2 commission seat.

Ex-wife, others weigh in on PBC commission appointment

Monday, March 2nd, 2009 by George Bennett

The ex-wife of Boynton Beach Vice Mayor Jose Rodriguez has weighed in with a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist about Rodriguez’s bid for a Palm Beach County commission appointment.

She strongly supports her former husband.

The letter from Sue Shumate-Rodriguez is one of more than 100 sent to Crist’s office in support of Rodriguez. In addition, more than 100 supporters of former Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams have written to the governor on his behalf, while more than 60 people have sent letters or e-mails supporting Boca Raton Councilwoman Susan Haynie for the appointment.

Read more here.

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