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Pam Bondi’

Bondi bashes Obamacare with FOX friends

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined FOX News “Fox & Friends” host Gretchen Carlson early this morning for the latest round of Obamacare-bashing.

Bondi, a former contributor to FOX News and frequent guest on the conservative network since her 2010 election, was asked about the latest twist in the federal health care law that spurred an outcry from Republicans.

President Obama’s administration announced on Friday it was delaying requirements that state-run health care insurance exchanges verify applicants’ eligibility for subsidized health care coverage.

Bondi railed against the HHS delay of the verification for eligibility. But the new rule won’t affect Florida because the state is not running its own exchange. Just 16 states and the District of Columbia chose to set up their own marketplaces. Like Florida, nearly every other state has defaulted to the federal government’s exchange.

“Here, now, we have nothing to prevent fraud. Anyone can come and say that they qualify for this and there’s absolutely no verification,” Bondi, a Republican, told Carlson.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it would delay the required random checks for eligibility for a year. The online exchanges are supposed to go up on Oct. 1, and individuals are slated to begin purchasing insurance through them by Jan. 1.

Bondi took over a multi-state lawsuit led by Florida against the Obama administration over the health care law after she took office in 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law last year but ruled that states do not have to participate in an expansion of Medicaid that was a key portion of the federal law. Florida lawmakers opted this year not to expand the federal-state health care program for the poor. The expansion would have covered about 1 million uninsured Floridians.

The fact that the new regulation won’t impact Florida didn’t diminish Bondi’s outrage.

“It’s going to be unbelievable,” she said. “I’m not going to say everybody’s going to commit fraud…
I would hope they wouldn’t. But we’ve opened something up that is vulnerable and invites fraud. That’s what frightens all of us. It’s going to be difficult for the IRS to verify. It’s going to be difficult for state authorities to verify. It’s just one more example of what a mess this federal takeover has become.”

Trifecta: Bondi files re-election papers

Monday, July 1st, 2013 by Dara Kam

Joining her two GOP Cabinet colleagues, Attorney General Pam Bondi filed papers on Monday to seek another term as the state’s top legal eagle.

Bondi announced her entree into the 2014 race on Twitter: “Officially filed for re-elect this morning-looking forward to continuing working hard and serving the people of Florida!”

Chief Financial Jeff Atwater and Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam have also filed their initial campaign documents. Thus far, only Putnam has drawn a Democratic challenger.

Bondi, backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, won a three-way Republican primary in 2010 and handily defeated Democrat Dan Gelber, winning nearly 55 percent of the vote.

Since she took office in 2011, Bondi’s been at the forefront of some high-profile lawsuits. She took over predecessor Bill McCollum’s case against the federal government over the federal health care law, ultimately losing when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the law is constitutional but that states don’t have to participate in the expansion of Medicaid.

More recently, Bondi sued BP over the Deepwater Horizon oil blast that rocked Panhandle tourism and dumped oil onto the region’s pristine beaches and emerald waters.

She also was one of the lead attorneys general in settlement with banks over foreclosures.

Since her election in 2010, Bondi has been on a crusade to stop prescription drug abuse, convincing Gov. Rick Scott to back a statewide prescription drug database and backing measures to crack down on “pill mills.”

Bondi’s also a renowned pet-lover who brings her St. Bernard Luke to work with her and has made a habit of bringing dogs available for adoption to Cabinet meetings.

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.”

Under pressure, hipster retailer drops prescription line

Friday, June 14th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Urban Outfitters is apparently axing its tongue-in-cheek prescription drug line under pressure from health advocates and attorneys general, including Florida’s Pam Bondi.

Bondi’s staff said the Philadelphia-based chain did not contact her office but instead the AG learned about it online.

CNN reported that the company intends to drop the accessories that include a set of syringe-shaped shot glasses along with shot glasses, beer “koozies” and coasters that look like prescription pads.

The coasters bear the label “Al Koholic, M.D.” whose address is on “Brewskis Lane” in “Sloshville, NY.” The beer koozie, also “prescribed” by “Dr. Koholic, Al,” appears to be a prescription bottle for “BOOZEMIN.” And the “prescription shot” glasses are printed with the “Rx #: VRY-NBR8TD” with a quantity “As many as you can stomach” and refills: “Sure!”

CNN is reporting that Urban Outfitters is bowing to pressure from a variety of groups and killing the line.

“In the 20,000 products that comprise our assortment, there are styles that represent humor, satire, and hyperbole,” Urban Outfitters told CNN in a statement. “In this extensive range of product we recognize that from time to time there may be individual items that are misinterpreted by people who are not our customer. As a result of this misinterpretation we are electing to discontinue these few styles from our current product offering.”

Bondi, who’s been on a crusade against prescription drug abuse since her 2010 election, hailed the company’s decision.

“I commend Urban Outfitters for making the right decision by ending its prescription line of products. Prescription drug abuse has destroyed so many lives in our country, and we appreciate the sensitivity that Urban Outfitters has demonstrated by voluntarily discontinuing this line,” she said.

Bondi, other AGs ask Urban Outfitters to quit selling druggy accessories

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Pam Bondi and 22 other attorneys general are demanding that Urban Outfitters quit selling accessories they say is glorifying drug use and “undermining” efforts to combat prescription drug abuse.

The trendy company is targeting the hipster crowd with a line of products that riff on prescription drugs, including a set of syringe-shaped shot glasses along with shot glasses, beer “koozies” and coasters that look like prescription pads.

The Rx-line appears to be as focused on booze as drugs. The prescription-pad coasters bear the label “Al Koholic, M.D.” whose address is on “Brewskis Lane” in “Sloshville, NY.” The beer koozie, also “prescribed” by “Dr. Koholic, Al,” appears to be a prescription bottle for “BOOZEMIN.” And the “prescription shot” glasses are printed with the “Rx #: VRY-NBR8TD” with a quantity “As many as you can stomach” and refills: “Sure!”

But for Bondi, whose made fighting prescription drug abuse her top issue since taking office in 2011, and the other top lawyers, the kitschy barware isn’t a joke.

“Profiting from a ‘prescription line’ that is contrary to Florida’s efforts to combat prescription drug overdoses and drinking is unacceptable. We are calling on Urban Outfitters to forgo a few sales and help us save a lot of lives,” Bondi said in a statement.

The products “demean the thousands of deaths that occur each month in the United States from accidental overdoses,” Bondi and the AGs from 22 states and Guam wrote to Urban Outfitters CEO and Chairman Richard A. Hayne in a letter dated today. “These products are not in any way fun or humorous but make light of this rampant problem. We invite you to pull these products from your shelves and join with us to fight prescription drug abuse.”

Read the attorneys general message here or after the jump.

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AG Bondi sues BP, Halliburton for $5.4 billion

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi has sued BP and Halliburton for more than $5.4 billion for lost revenue to the state caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil blast.

“We know BP has caused a tremendous amount of damage to our state,” Bondi told reporters at a press conference this afternoon. “Millions of barrels of oil were spilled into our Gulf for months and months during the height of tourism season in our state. There is no doubt in my mind that BP must be required to compensate our state for our losses.”

Bondi said she offered the oil giant a deal 90 days ago but received no response. She filed the lawsuit on Saturday, the three-year deadline for lawsuits for damages. The 86-day gusher clotted the Panhandle’s pristine beaches and emerald waters with oil at the onset of the region’s tourist season.

“We had hoped BP would do the right thing and work with us…yet that hasn’t happened,” Bondi said, adding that the state “did not even receive a response” from BP. “It’s astonishing to me considering the harm BP has caused our state and our people. Floridians deserve better and we are going to receive it from BP.”

Bondi said the bulk of the $5.4 billion she is seeking is based on anticipated future losses, mainly sales and use taxes, corporate taxes and documentary stamp taxes from a drop in real estate transactions.

No details yet on how bulk of $334 million foreclosure settlement will be spent

Thursday, January 24th, 2013 by Dara Kam

GOP legislative leaders vowed that $200 million from a mortgage foreclosure settlement will be spent on helping homeowners but said they do not know yet how they will divvy up the money.

“We’re not going to be spending this money on members’ favorite projects that have nothing to do with the crisis. The idea is to focus the resources on helping the people who are in the greatest needs,” House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said at a press conference Thursday with Attorney General Pam Bondi and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Weatherford pledged to work with Bondi, who wrangled with the legislative leaders for months over control of Florida’s $334 million settlement made in March as part of a national agreement between attorneys general and the nation’s five largest banks.

“You’ll be hearing from us,” Bondi, standing beside Weatherford, promised.

A legislative committee last week finalized Bondi’s request for $60 million of the settlement. More than half of the money will go to first-time homebuyers for down no-interest payment assistance. The rest is earmarked for housing counseling, legal aid and the courts to help a backlog of foreclosure cases.

Bondi and lawmakers struck a deal in November that handed her control of the $60 million and put the legislature in charge of the bulk of the funds – $200 million – to be spent on “housing-related programs.” They won’t finalize their spending plan until the end of the legislative session in May, more than a year after the settlement was reached.

Bondi, praised by both legislative leaders for her office’s work in reaching the settlement with the banks, said she’d like to see the money spent on:
_ Foreclosure prevention;
_ Neighborhood revitalization;
_ Affordable housing;
_ Home buyer or renter assistance;
_ Additional legal assistance;
_ Counseling.

Flanked by Bondi, Weatherford told reporters on Thursday that the money will not be used to replace funding already spent on housing-related items.

“There’s no intention to do a bait-and-switch on this,” Weatherford said, adding that the leaders and Bondi had developed a trust “to use these funds to help the people who were actually harmed.”

Gov. Rick Scott, First Lady Ann in Bahamas to watch Attorney General Pam Bondi tie the knot

Saturday, May 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Just back from a trade mission to Spain, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is in the Bahamas today for Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s hush-hush wedding to her long-time beau, Tampa ophthalmologist Greg Henderson.

Scott and his wife, First Lady Ann Scott, are among the guests at Bondi’s Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman affair. Bondi, 45, Florida’s first female attorney general, is divorced.

While it was no secret that Bondi and Henderson, who is 15 years her senior and has four grown children, intended to marry this spring, the attorney general kept details about the wedding mum. Bondi’s press secretary did not respond to questions about it Saturday.

But Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, spilled the beans on her Facebook page Friday, posting a picture of Bondi captioned “The blushing bride serving punch to her friends on Cayman Air.” In a previous post, Dockery said: “The plane is filled with her wedding party.”

Bondi, a GOP darling who never ran for office before becoming attorney general in 2011, was a frequent contributor to FoxNews prior to her election and remains a regular guest giving updates about Florida’s lawsuit against President Obama’s administration over the health care law. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in the case in August.

Supreme Court decision to stay out of slots highlights Palm Beach County case

Friday, April 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday refused to wade into a lower court decision that opened the door for slot machines at pari-mutuels throughout the state, elevating a Palm Beach County challenge to a proposed slots referendum this fall.

The Supreme Court dismissed appeals by several Miami-Dade County pari-mutuels challenging whether slots should be limited to seven pari-mutuels in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

That appellate court decision last fall opened the door for counties, including Palm Beach, to put referenda before voters allowing them to decide whether their pari-mutuels should be allowed to have more lucrative slot machine gambling.

Gambling lawyers throughout the state and Gov. Rick Scott’s administration officials were anxiously awaiting what many hoped would be a Supreme Court decision settling the issue.

Instead, focus is now on the Palm Beach County lawsuit filed by a Boca Raton woman last month. The Palm Beach court case could ripple throughout the state if Judge Janis Keyser yanks the referendum off the ballot.

“Obviously every pari-mutuel in the state is watching that with eager interest,” Marc Dunbar, an attorney who represents Gulfstream Race Track and who also is a part-owner of a Gretna horse track in Gadsden County, where he hopes to soon start slot machine gambling. “All of a sudden all eyes go to Palm Beach.”

Lawyers representing the county are expected to file their briefs Monday in the case.

County commissioners voted in December to place the referendum on the ballot in the hopes that a favorable vote would lead to slot machines at the Palm Beach County Kennel Club. Voters in three counties – Gadsden, Hamilton and Washington – have already signed off on the measures.

The Palm Beach County lawsuit filed by Boca Raton resident Sandra Medlicott centers on an opinion issued by Attorney General Pam Bondi earlier this year saying pari-mutuels should not be authorized to offer slots without changes to the state constitution or permission from the Legislature.

Two years after Deepwater Horizon disaster, Justice Department audit nets extra $64 million in payments for oil blast victims

Thursday, April 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

An independent audit of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility resulted in an extra $64 million for more than 7,400 victims whose claims had originally been denied by former administrator Ken Feinberg.

More than half of the money will be going to Floridians whose claims were erroneously rejected, according to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. As a result of the audit, the Justice Department approved $37.7 million for 4,450 Florida individuals and businesses whom Feinberg turned down.

The U.S. Justice Department released the preliminary audit findings Thursday, one day before the second anniversary of the massive explosion that killed 11 oil rig workers and spewed an estimated 206 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It took more than 85 days for engineers to finally stanch the oil flow from BP’s Macondo well that devastated coastal wetlands, stained Florida Panhandle beaches, killed wildlife and shut down commercial fishing in the Gulf for extended periods of time.

The initial findings of the audit were released The audit, released by the U.S. Justice Department today, found that overall Feinberg did a fine job distributing more than $6.2 billion – less than half of the $20 billion BP set aside to pay for damages caused by the spill – to more than 220,000 claimants over 18 months.

“While our independent evaluation did uncover instances in which errors were made in the claims evaluation process, in general, the GCCF appeared to have consistently applied its protocols and methodologies in processing claims,” BDO Consulting auditors wrote.

The audit found that Feinberg’s GCCF denied about 60 percent of the claims. Initially, claims were denied because the types of businesses trying to get paid were not eligible for payment or because claimants failed to provide required financial documents. During the second part of the claims process, the majority of claims turned down were rejected because they could not document that their financial losses were caused by the massive Deepwater Horizon oil blast.

Feinberg made changes to the claims process in response to problems identified by his workers, likely adding to some of the inconsistencies in payments, the auditors found.

But they praised him, given the “complexity and unprecedented nature” of Feinberg’s task.

“The GCCF was designed to respond, and did respond, with urgency to the economic difficulties of those most likely affected by the Spill. However, because of the complexity and unprecedented nature of the task undertaken by the GCCF, it was inevitable that some claimants and stakeholders would have concerns about its operations. While hundreds of thousands of individual and business claimants received payment without litigation over the two years immediately following the Spill, many others have sought an alternative to the GCCF. We hope
that all those who have been genuinely affected by the Spill, ultimately receive an appropriate resolution to their claims,” the auditors wrote.

Claimants encountered a variety of problems, including being denied even though the companies they worked for had been approved. Others complained that about inconsistency. In some instance, employees who worked the same shift at the same restaurant received different treatment.

Bondi, one of the Gulf Coast state attorneys general who pushed for the audit last year, specifically wanted the audit to include an investigation into the discrepancies.

“I had always wanted an audit in order to bring transparency to the claims process, and thankfully Floridians will now receive the millions in relief that they deserve,” Bondi said in a statement.

UPDATE: Bondi sends new Florida Senate maps to Supreme Court, oral arguments set

Thursday, April 5th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: The Florida Supreme Court has set April 20 for oral arguments on the revised Florida Senate maps submitted for review today by Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Senate has hired former Supreme Court justice Raoul Cantero at $675 an hour to help sell its maps to his former colleagues.

The revised Florida Senate maps are now in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court after Attorney General Pam Bondi sent them to the high court for review today. And the group that backed the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment responsible for the Court’s rejecting the original maps also filed their competing plan, saying the Senate’s modifications still don’t meet muster.

Bondi waited less than 24 hours to send the original maps – rejected by the Court last month – but hung on to the revamped districts for more than a week. She had until April 11 to deliver them. The Court has 60 days to act on the plan, and can approve it or reject it and replace it with one of its own or another, such as the Fair District’s proposal.

Democrats complained that Bondi’s delay was intentional and part of a Republican strategy to pressure the Court and the U.S. Justice Department into hurried scrutiny of the proposed districts. Candidate qualifying for the November elections begins on June 4, meaning political wannabes may be filing to run in districts that may not exist by the time the election rolls around.

Also today, the groups that backed the constitution’s new “Fair Districts” amendment – the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Florida Common Cause – submitted their own version of the Senate’s 40 districts they say are more likely to comply with the amendment that, among other things, bars lawmakers from crafting maps that protect incumbents.

While the Court signed off on the Florida House’s redrawn 120 districts, the justices found the original set of Senate maps “rife with objective indicators of improper intent” and tossed out eight of the 40 Senate’s proposed districts.

“The Court gave the Senate a second chance, but the Senate just did exactly what it has done in every redistricting cycle – drawn districts to protect themselves and their political allies rather than protecting the voting rights of all Floridians. That is why we felt compelled to propose an alternative plan,” LWV president Deirdre Macnab said in a statement.

Gov. Scott appoints special prosecutor in Trayvon Martin case

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi have appointed a special prosecutor to take over the investigation of the shooting of Trayvon Martin, responding to increased pressure from national civil rights leaders outraged over the killing of the unarmed black 17-year-old by a neighborhood watch volunteer whom local authorities have not charged with any crime.

Scott and Bondi asked State Attorney Angela Corey of Jacksonville to take over for Seminole County State Attorney Norman Wolfinger. The appointment came the same day Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee temporarily stepped down amid outrage over his failure to charge George Zimmerman with any crime in the Feb. 26 shooting. Wolfinger said in a letter to Scotthe was stepping aside “in the interest of public safety” and to “avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating the case.

Scott also announced the formation of a task force headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who is black, to look into the use of the state’s first-in-the-nation “stand your ground” law, which allows individuals to use deadly force to defend themselves when they feel threatened. Zimmerman said he shot Martin in self-defense, and Lee said he lacked evidence to arrest him.

Several black lawmakers, including Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens who represents the district where Martin lived with his mother, had asked Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, to appoint special legislative committees to look into the law. Yesterday, both leaders said they did not believe the committees were yesterday. But today, Scott said they have agreed to suggest appointees to the task force.

Scott’s announcement of the task force comes two days after Scott held an impromptu meeting with about 50 black lawyers and civil rights leaders who marched to his office demanding he create such a panel to look into racial profiling.

Read Scott’s statement regarding the “Citizen Safety and Protection” task force after the jump.
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Gov. Scott, AG Bondi say pill mill crackdown working

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A year after creating a prescription drug “strike force,” Florida is moving from the “Oxy express” to a role model for the nation in cracking down on pill mills and illicit pain pill distribution, according to Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

The state’s Drug Enforcement Strike Force Teams, initiated by Scott with $800,000 last March, have seized almost 500,000 pills, 59 vehicles, 391 weapons and $4.7 million, according to Scott’s office. And they’ve made more than 2,150 arrests, including 34 doctors.

The dent in the illicit prescription drug trade comes from a combination of Scott’s “strike force” and tough laws – including restrictions limiting rogue doctors’ dispensing of drugs and the amount of drugs per patient they can prescribe – pushed by Bondi. Scott, Bondi, Bailey and a host of law enforcement and health officials boasted of the success at a press conference this afternoon.

“We have a long way to go,” Bondi, who testified before Congress on the issue last week, said, adding that the efforts have made a “tremendous difference in the war on prescription drugs.”

Last year, 90 of the country’s top 100 Oxycodone-purchasing doctors and 53 of the top 100 purchasing pharmacies were located in Florida. The number of doctors dropped 85 percent to 13 and the number of pharmacies went down to 19. And the number of pain clinics in the state has gone down from 800 to 508, according to Scott’s office.

And an interim report shows a nearly 8 percent drop in the number of people who prescription drug-related deaths in Florida from January through the end of June last year compared to the same six-month period the previous year.

From January 1 through July 1 last year, 1,173 people died with at least on prescription drug in their blood. The previous year, the 1,268 people died, a 7.9 percent decrease. Scott’s “strike force” was only in effect for half of that period and many of the restrictions on prescribing had not yet gone into effect. And the state’s prescription drug database was not yet up and running – that didn’t go online until October.

“This is a good news day,” Scott said, saying the drug force has had a “dramatic impact” over the past year. “People know now we are clearly the model.”

The crackdown on drug pushers is turning around the state’s reputation as the drug capital of the country, Bailey said.

“In one year, we’ve gone from being known as the Oxy-express to being a role model for other states dealing with this problem,” he said. “While we have made tremendous strides, we’re just getting started. Prescription drug trafficking remains a significant concern for Florida law enforcement.”

Bondi joins other AGs in lawsuit against Obama administration over birth control

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi today joined six other GOP attorneys general in a lawsuit against President Obama’s administration over a controversial mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance offering free birth control.

Bondi and Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas are accusing the White House of violating freedom of religion with the requirement, a hot-button issue in the GOP presidential primary.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Nebraska, mirrors one filed this week by Ave Maria University, a small Catholic college near Naples, claiming its religious liberties are being violated by the administration’s order that its employees receive health insurance with no-cost contraceptive coverage.

“Government has no business forcing religious institutions and individuals to violate their sincerely held beliefs. This lawsuit is about protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience, our most basic freedoms as Americans,” Bondi said in a press release.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a Catholic High School, Catholic Social Services and a nun.

Bath salts shake up: Chemistry class is over, Bondi says

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

“Creative chemists” crafting new concoctions to sidestep state laws banning “bath salts” have unwittingly issued a challenge to Attorney General Pam Bondi, who’s on a crusade again to purge convenience stores of the dangerous drugs.

A little more than a year after Bondi issued an emergency order banning “bath salts” – a dangerous synthetic drug cocktail – kids are still overdosing on the drugs, often sold at convenience stores near high schools, Bondi, flanked by other law enforcement officials, said at a press conference this morning.

Bondi said she predicted the chemists would come up with new combinations to skirt Florida laws banning specific compounds when the legislature outlawed them last year. But she’s not giving up, she said.

“Guys, chemistry class is over and we’re going to enroll you in chemistry class in Florida prison because that’s where you belong,” Bondi said.

Two Panhandle Republicans – Sen. Greg Evers of Baker and Rep. Clay Ingram of Pensacola – have sponsored bills (SB 1502, HB 1175) that would expand the ban on the drugs, sometimes sold as incense under names like “Jazz” or “K2 Spice.” The House bill is headed to the floor this week and the Senate measure has one more committee stop.

More than 1,000 people have been arrested for selling the synthetic drugs since the law went into effect on July 1, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Assistant Secretary Jim Madden said.

Bondi called on parents to educate their kids about how harmful the substances are, which some drug users think are safer than traditional street drugs like cocaine.

But Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Cameron – who said three youths in his region recently overdosed on the drugs – said consumers need to boycott stores that sell the drugs.

“When you patronize these stores, and you see these substances on the shelf, you question the store owner,” Cameron said. “The only reason they are selling it is because they’re making money.”

Florida gets $8.4 billion in national foreclosure settlement

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida will get $8.4 billion of a $26 billion nationwide foreclosure settlement reached following what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called “disturbing practices” at the country’s biggest banks.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a top negotiator for the states involved in the lawsuit, said prosecutors and banks had reached a deal that “provides Floridians with much-needed relief and reforms the mortgage-servicing industry.”

Under the agreement:
* Florida borrowers will receive an estimated $7.6 billion in benefits from loan modifications, including principal reduction and other debt relief.

* About $170 million will be available for cash payments to Florida borrowers who lost their home to foreclosure from Jan. 1, 2008 through Dec. 31, 2011 and suffered servicing abuse.

* The value of refinanced loans to Florida’s underwater borrowers would be an estimated $309 million.

* The state will receive a direct payment of $350 million.

“This settlement will provide substantial relief to struggling Florida homeowners, and ensures that our state gets its fair share of the relief being provided nationally,” Bondi said in a statement this morning. “This agreement holds banks accountable and puts in place new protections for
homeowners in the form of strict mortgage servicing standards.”

Read more from The Palm Beach Post‘s Kimberly Miller here.

Internet ban, in limbo in Senate, on its way to House floor with blessing of Gov. Scott and Cabinet

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are putting pressure on lawmakers to approve an all-out ban on Internet cafés now on its way to the House floor but facing a doubtful future in the Senate.

The House Economic Affairs Committee approved the bill (HB 3) this morning, drawing the praise of the Republican governor and Cabinet who want the so-called “casinos on the corner” shuttered.

Critics of the cafés, an estimated $1 billion industry which operates under state “sweepstakes” laws and are largely unregulated, say they prey on the state’s poor and vulnerable. But the café operators say they provide good jobs for their employees and a place to socialize for seniors and others.

Scott believes the store-front casinos found in strip malls throughout the state are already illegal but wants lawmakers to officially ban them.

“These store front casinos are impacting Florida’s neighborhoods and families,” said Governor Scott. “They are and should be illegal. Representative Plakon’s bill closes this loophole and I commend his dedication to shutting down these establishments,” Scott said in a statement released by Rep. Scott Plakon, the Longwood Republican who’s sponsored the bill.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam joined in the chorus demanding the shut-down.

But the Senate is moving forward with a separate measure that would regulate the cafés and impose a $100 fee per computer terminal for operators. Estimates of the number of cafés in the state range from 800 to 1,400 but all agree they have mushroomed in the past few years. Palm Beach County commissioners recently barred new cafés from opening in unincorporated areas.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved a regulation measure and set aside a bill that would make the cafés illegal.

Bondi, state regulators say no to slots at Gretna and raise doubts about Palm Beach

Thursday, January 12th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State regulators won’t give a Panhandle horsetrack permission to have slot machines without legislative approval or changes to the state constitution based on an opinion issued by Attorney General Pam Bondi on Thursday.

Her non-binding opinion also puts in doubt a local bill Palm Beach County and the Palm Beach County Kennel Club are seeking to get slots approved at the dog track. A referendum on the slots will go before county voters in November.

Bondi issued the opinion in response to a question from state gambling regulators regarding Creek Entertainment Gretna racetrack in Gadsden County. Voters there and in Washington County will decide on Jan. 31 whether they want to allow their local pari-mutuels to offer slots, something the Gretna owners are banking on.

But Bondi said the referenda would only be valid if they are first authorized by the Legislature or in the state Constitution, and Department of Business and Professional Regulation officials said they would comply with her opinion.

Lawyers for PBKC and the Gretna track rejected Bondi’s opinion, accusing her of being biased against the slot machines and promising that the courts will ultimately decide on the issue.

“This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that an Attorney General has opined, for political issues, on a gambling issue outside of their authority,” attorney Marc Dunbar, one of the owners of the Gretna track, said in a statement. “Fortunately the Supreme Court has ruled on many occasions that these advisory opinions have no binding affect and more times than not are eventually rejected by Florida courts. I look forward to meeting her in court where law, not politics, will ultimately decide the issue.”

Atwater IG clears Bondi of meddling in foreclosure lawyers’ forced resignations

Friday, January 6th, 2012 by Dara Kam

An inspector general late Friday cleared Attorney General Pam Bondi of wrongdoing in the forced resignations of former foreclosure lawyers Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson.

There was “no discovery of evidence of wrongdoing on the part of anyone involved in the matter,” an 85-page report written by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater‘s inspector general, asked by Bondi to look into accusations that her office mishandled the terminations, concluded.

“The report confirms the terminations had nothing to do with politics or outside influence. Rather, it was about doing the right thing, in defense of the people of Florida,” Bondi said in a press release.

The report drew criticism from two Democratic lawmakers who have asked for an independent investigation into the matter.

“From the outset, the investigation requested by Attorney General Pam Bondi raised troubling questions. There was little to no independence as she turned to a colleague, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to look into her own conduct and that of her office. Much like a close relative investigating as opposed to a distant cousin, the pronouncement by Mr. Atwater’s office of ‘guilt-free” is hardly reassuring – to me, or the thousands of Florida homeowners looking for protection from foreclosure fraud abuse,” Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, said in a statement.

“Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson netted $2 million in foreclosure fraud damages for Floridians and were quickly fired thereafter. The termination of these attorneys is a violation of state policy by obstructing the prosecution of mortgage and foreclosure fraud. The inspector general’s report focuses, instead, on minutiae in order to avoid making a call on the big picture,” Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, said in press release.

Constitutional amendment doing away with separation of church and state back on the ballot…for now

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A measure doing away with a century-old prohibition on using state funds for religious purposes is back on the November 2012 ballot, for now, after Attorney General Pam Bondi rewrote the proposal using a Tallahassee judge’s guidance.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis last week tossed the proposed “Religious Freedom” constitutional amendment, placed on next year’s November ballot by lawmakers, saying it was misleading because it left the impression that it would “make it a lot harder for the state to deny funding or program benefits to a sectarian institution.”

Under a new election law signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring, Bondi had 10 days to rewrite the ballot summary. She crafted the revised measure as Lewis suggested in his Dec. 13 ruling by deleting the phrase “consistent with the United States Constitution” and inserting “except as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Critics say the amendment makes it easier for the GOP-dominated legislature and executive branch to steer taxpayer money to religious entities, including schools. The amendment’s ballot summary would change Florida’s constitution to ensure that “no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support.” At least 60 percent of voters must approve the measure for it to pass.

The plaintiffs in the case, including religious leaders and the Florida teachers’ union, also tried but failed to get Lewis to strike down the law allowing the attorney general to revise the summary if a court strikes it down as misleading. Bondi’s rewrite Tuesday is the first time the new law giving her that ability has been used.

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