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King of Calypso to join Dream Defenders Capitol takeover

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Support is swelling for the Dream Defenders Florida Capitol sit-in as state and national leaders plan to join in on the protest outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office.

Singer Harry Belafonte, best known for “The Banana Boat Song,” is slated to join the protest tomorrow. Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew said he met Belafonte, a civil rights activist, in New York last month and that the singer/actor’s office reached out to him asking how Belafonte could support the cause.

A number of black pastors will join the sit-in later today and nearly two dozen could spend the night in the Capitol rotunda outside Gov. Rick Scott’s office where the protesters are now on their 10th day, Agnew said.

The group, comprised mainly of college students from around the state, staged the sit-in after George Zimmerman’s acquittal earlier this month. Zimmerman was accused of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, on Feb. 26, 2012. The protesters are seeking a repeal of the Florida’s first-in-the-nation stand your ground law that allows individuals who feel their lives are in danger to use deadly force without the obligation to retreat and provides immunity from prosecution. Although Zimmerman did not use the law to avoid a jury trial, stand your ground was part of the jury instructions and one juror blamed the law on the six-woman panel’s failure to convict Zimmerman.

Former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, the state’s only official Democratic gubernatorial candidate, also said she plans to join the group this weekend. And the Rev. Al Sharpton said last week that he plans a stop in Tallahassee before an Aug. 24 march in Washington, D.C., commemorating the late Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech” half a century ago.

The protesters also are asking the state to reconsider laws and policies dealing with juvenile detention and school “zero tolerance” policies they say are responsible for Trayvon Martin winding up in Sanford on the night he was killed.

Scott and House and Senate leaders insist they will not reconsider the stand your ground law. But midway into their second week in the Capitol, Agnew said the protesters remain upbeat and gave no indication of giving up the fight.

“We’re increasing people power. And we’re applying pressure on the local level. We’re very excited. It’s almost Friday. Friday’s always awesome,” Agnew, a 28-year-old Florida A & M University graduate, said. “We’re really making the space our own. The Capitol is the people’s and we’re going to go stay there until we get something done.”

UPDATE: Capitol sit-in planned over Zimmerman not guilty verdict

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Photo courtesy Dream Defenders

UPDATE: At least 50 protesters from around the state are settling into Gov. Rick Scott’s office on the first floor of the Capitol. The Dream Defenders and others want Scott, who’s in New York, to call a special session and are demanding lawmakers establish the Florida “Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act.” The group, mostly students, want changes to Florida’s stand your ground law and “zero tolerance” school policies and are asking for anti-racial profiling training for law enforcement officers. So far, the protest has been orderly as buses of more protesters, many of them college students, continue to arrive. Organizers said they expect at least 200 to join the sit-in and they plan to stay overnight.

Young people from around the state are planning a sit-in at Gov. Rick Scott’s office in reaction to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Dream Defenders are busing up college students and others from Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Gainesville to demand that Scott call a special session to review stand your ground, racial profiling and zero tolerance school policies they believe are the reason Trayvon Martin wound up in Sanford last year.

Organizers expect as many as 200 to attend the protest they’re calling #TakeoverTuesday on Twitter.

Dream Defenders Executive Director Phillip Agnew said they’re prepared to wait “as long as it takes” for their demands to be met.

Scott’s in New York today and the Legislature won’t be in town until September at the earliest, when committee meetings meeting.

Like many others around the country, Agnew and his group, who’s protest has the blessing of the left-leaning Florida New Majority, are frustrated by Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict. Protests and vigils began the day after Saturday’s verdict and Al Sharpton, who will be at the NAACP convention in Orlando on Wednesday, said his organization is planning rallies in 100 cities in front of federal courthouses on Saturday.

“This is our step. We can’t burn our communities down. We can’t riot. So what can we do but go to the seat of power and ask them to do what they’re supposed to do,” Agnew said early this morning.

Agnew said the group is aware that Scott and the Legislature aren’t around but they wanted to give the leaders plenty of time to work on the Dream Defenders agenda the protesters believe will help avoid future tragedies.

Trayvon Martin, who lived in Miami Gardens with his mother Sybrina Fulton, was suspended from high school prior to going to Sanford to stay with his father Tracy. The Dream Defenders and other groups have made zero tolerance policies they call the “schools-to-prisons pipeline” a top issue.

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.”

Death Row lawyers and inmates challenge new fast-track death penalty law

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Attorneys representing Death Row inmates have filed a challenge to a law aimed at speeding up executions, saying the “Timely Justice Act” unconstitutionally usurps the Supreme Court’s powers and violates convicts’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

The lawsuit is led by two lawyers – Capital Collateral Regional Counsel South Neal Dupree and Capital Collateral Regional Counsel Middle Bill Jennings – who head the state agencies that represent Death Row inmates in post-conviction proceedings. Dozens of other lawyers and more than 150 inmates awaiting execution joined the lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state of Florida filed with the Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon.

The lawyers filed the lawsuit less than two weeks after Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure into law.

The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, requires the Florida Supreme Court to certify to the governor when a Death Row inmate’s appeals have been exhausted. Under the new law, the governor will have 30 days to sign a death warrant once the capital clemency process is complete.

The lawyers have asked the Court to issue an emergency injunction blocking the law from going into effect.

“The Act creates a rushed process for issuance of a flood of death warrants that will inundate the courts and abruptly cut off this Court’s exercise of judicial review in capital cases. If not addressed prior to its operation in practice, the process will have the unconstitutional and irreversible result of individuals being executed under a legislatively-determined judicial procedure in which violations of their constitutional rights go unresolved. Further, Florida history shows that diminished process can have tragic and irreversible consequences,” the lawyers wrote in the 89-page filing.

The court filing includes a lengthy examination of both the Court’s and the legislature’s efforts over the past 30 years to come up with a more expedited but fair death penalty process “to balance the concerns of fairness and justice with the need for finality” in death penalty cases.

That process “cannot and should not be displaced by a lawmaking process based on political, rather than constitutional and equitable, concerns,” wrote Dupree and Jennings, joined by Martin McClain, who has represented numerous Death Row inmates, included some who have been exonerated.

Since signing the bill, Scott’s office has launched a public relations campaign disputing reports that the new law speeds up executions and insisting instead that the law “makes technical amendments to current law and provides clarity and transparency to legal proceedings.”

According to Scott’s office, 13 Death Row inmates would fit the criteria under the new law to have a death warrant signed.

But in the court filings, lawyers for the condemned argued that the Legislature’s new scheme to limit post-conviction appeals lacks an understanding of the complexities of the process and imposes restrictions on federal appeals.

The Legislature “has made profoundly critical decisions determining what judicial vehicles are available to capital defendants prior to the State taking the ultimate punitive act of terminating their lives, yet it seems the Legislature does not have an understanding of those vehicles and their names. Unless, that is, we must presume that the Legislature intended to cut off U.S. Supreme Court review of Florida death cases, which would present concerns of federalism, constitutionality, and fairness beyond those addressed herein,” the lawyers wrote.

The lawsuit also accuses the law of violating the separation of powers between the branches of government because it gives the governor the authority to oversee whether the Clerk of the Supreme Court complies with the 30-day requirement to notify the governor once appeals have been completed and because it takes away some of the court’s rulemaking authority by imposing time limits on the production of public records in post-conviction cases.

And the new law also fails to take into account that some appeals, including whether an inmate is insane cannot be made until after a warrant is issued, the Death Row lawyers argued.

The law would also give unequal treatment to convicts whose cases were processed before the new act went into effect, the lawyers wrote.

UPDATE: Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rene Garcia: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross political attacks “reprehensible”

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: “Florida Jobs First” spokesman Eric Jotkoff shot back this snarky response to Garcia’s letter: “Senator Garcia’s comments will carry as much weight with us as they did in the Senate, where his stance against the referendum was rejected by an overwhelming 35-4 vote. The people of Miami-Dade deserved the right to vote on the modernization and the 4,000 jobs it would have created. They deserved a fair shot at Super Bowls 50 and 51, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity they would have generated. Speaker Weatherford made clear after blocking the vote that he did it in part because of the Miami-Dade delegation, so we are just following the path he laid out by holding the opponents in the delegation accountable. We will keep fighting for jobs for Florida, just like we would expect every elected official to do.”

Sen. Rene Garcia, chairman of the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus, sent a blistering letter to Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross demanding an apology for his “reprehensible” and “condemnable” political punishment of Hispanic lawmakers who opposed a stadium deal earlier this year.

Ross set up the “Florida Jobs First” PAC to raise money for Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection bid and attack legislators who weren’t sold on the proposal to increase Miami-Dade County’s hotel bed tax to underwrite a $350 million Sun Life Stadium renovation. Ross reportedly lost $10 million on the failed referendum.

“We understand that you certainly have a right to express your discontentment; however, directly attacking legislators because of their decision to adhere to their principles in standing with their constituency on an issue directly affecting your own financial viability is reprehensible and certainly condemnable,” Garcia wrote in the letter sent to Ross on Wednesday. Garcia also threatened that Ross’s attacks may “diminish the sense of goodwill” the Dolphins have in the community.

Read The Post’s Dolphins reporter Andrew Abramson’s full blog on the Dolphins dust-up here, and the full text of Garcia’s letter to Ross after the jump.

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ACLU seeks federal probe of FL drug database

Monday, June 24th, 2013 by Dara Kam

The ACLU of Florida has asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the state’s prescription drug database after the Rx drug histories of 3,300 patients were leaked to lawyers in a narcotics sting last month.

The civil rights group is accusing the state Department of Health; the program manager of the drug database, called ““E-FORCSE” (Electronic Florida On-Line Registry of Controlled Substances Evaluation Program); the U.S. DEA; the office of R.J. Larizza, state attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit; and other unknown entities and individuals of violating Floridians’ privacy.

Larizza gave the list of names to five of six attorneys for defendants accused of prescription drug fraud in May. Last week, he filed court documents showing that the 3,300 names were the result of a 2011 query by a DEA agent investigating a prescription fraud ring. Michael Lambert, an attorney whose name was on the list but is not accused of any crime, sued Larizza and is also challenging the constitutionality of the law. Lambert believes it is an unconstitutional violation of privacy and amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure by the government.

Last week, the Florida Department of Health, which oversees the program, announced it was exploring stricter security measures to help ensure patients’ privacy.

In the complaint submitted Saturday, ACLU lawyer Maria Kayanan told federal officials that law enforcement officials are given too much freedom when seeking records from the database, according to the program’s user manual.

Investigators can use a “wildcard search using partial text;” enter partial names or conduct a search for a name that sounds like the subject’s name, Kayanan wrote.

“There is no apparent oversight of the use of DOH’s PDMP by law enforcement, and there is no accountability for its misuse. The unacceptably broad queries and apparent lack of oversight invite abusive fishing expeditions by law enforcement agencies that can and, indeed have, revealed to private third parties, the confidential medical and prescription history, along with other personal identifying information, of thousands of individuals who are lawfully prescribed, and lawfully taking, prescription drugs,” she wrote. An individual’s prescription records are medical records, as they reveal intimate details of an individual’s medical conditions—details that should remain private, within the doctor-patient relationship.”

The ACLU is ramping up its attempt to get state health officials to tell them exactly what DEA Agent Sean Tucker asked for and that resulted in so many patients’ drug records. Health officials initially said the information sought by the ACLU was exempt from the state’s Sunshine Law because it is part of an active investigation.

Kayanan, in a renewed public records request made today, argued that the exemption citing “active investigation” cannot possibly include the other 3,294 people who are not among the six accused in the Volusia County case. She’s also trying to find out how many times law enforcement agencies have used a broad name search in their queries, how long the state is retaining those queries, and all of the requests from investigators the department has rejected.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and others insist the database has contributed to a decline in prescription drug overdoses and a sharp decrease in “doctor shopping.” Gov. Rick Scott initially opposed the program, citing privacy concerns, but later relented.

Created in 2009, the database became operational in the fall of 2011 but funding for the program foundered. Lawmakers banned the use of state money or contributions from drug companies to pay for the program until this year, when Scott signed off on $500,000 in public funds for the database.

Rick Scott’s underground portrait

Friday, June 21st, 2013 by Dara Kam


Gov. Rick Scott, returning to the Capitol today after a week-long trade mission in France, will be greeted by himself at his underground parking spot.

Someone erected Scott’s visage above his parking spot yesterday. It’s unknown who posted his reflective-coated image but it wasn’t at Scott’s request, an aide to the governor said, and there was no cost to the state or taxpayers for the personalized parking plate.

Scott signs expedited death penalty, 58 other bills into law

Friday, June 14th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Rejecting nearly 15,000 pleas for a veto, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure speeding up executions, saying it includes protections for Death Row convicts and “does not increase the risk of execution of persons who did not commit murder.”

Scott signed the “Timely Justice Act” along with 58 other bills and vetoed two others, including a measure that would have made voters’ e-mail addresses secret, before heading to a trade mission to France on Friday.

Scott also signed into law a business-backed bill that would block local governments from enacting mandatory sick time measures.

Read Scott’s message regarding the death penalty measure here and the sick-leave pay bill here.

Was Gov. Rick Scott right to worry about prescription drug database?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013 by Dara Kam

It took some convincing, but proponents of Florida’s prescription drug database, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, finally persuaded Gov. Rick Scott to sign off on the program that contains Rx information for narcotics and other addictive drugs.

Scott balked because he didn’t trust that the database couldn’t be hacked or that individuals’ prescription drug info could be erroneously made public.

Now, the ACLU of Florida, which has taken Scott to court over a variety of his policies, is saying that’s exactly what’s happened, and that the drug records of 3,300 individuals has landed in the wrong hands.

The ACLU claims that the prescription drug records of 3,300 individuals were given to prosecutors and defense attorneys in six criminal cases in Volusia County.

“Somehow information that is supposed to remain private and confidential and be safely maintained in this unfortunate database made its way into third parties who have no right to it,” said ACLU of Florida attorney Maria Kayanan.

The civil rights organization is seeking more information about how the patients’ prescriptions, birthdates, addresses was made public during the court cases.

The database was created in 2009 but wasn’t up and running until 2011. Lawmakers this year agreed to allow state money to be used to fund the database, pushed by President Obama’s drug czar and others as way to help fight prescription drug abuse by preventing “doctor shopping.”

The ACLU has issued a public records request to the Florida Department of Health and to the Seminole County Sheriff’s office in search of records relating to requests made by local or federal law enforcement agencies to the Electronic Florida On-Line Registry of Controlled Substances Evaluation (E-FORSCE) database.

“It certainly looks like there were multiple breaches at multiple places. Some of them may have been unintentional. We don’t know. But the bottom line is this is so very wrong,” Kayanan said.

Scott signs measure requiring emergency care in botched abortions

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure requiring treatment for infants born after an attempted abortion, passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature last month.

The “Infants Born Alive” bill (HB 1129) requires infants born alive after an attempted abortion to provide resuscitative care and require that they be transported to hospitals and receive emergency aid. The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, is modeled on a similar federal law also enacted by other states.

“As a father and grandfather, there is nothing more precious or special than welcoming a new child into this world and by signing this bill, we are protecting the most vulnerable among us and affirming their rights as individuals. This legislation ensures common-sense measures are taken to help care for the babies who survive abortion procedures and grants those infants the same rights as infants who are born naturally,” Scott, a Republican seeking reelection to a second term as governor, said in a statement.

Florida lawmakers unanimously approved the measure after Planned Parenthood representatives signed off on the bill. The new law also requires abortion providers to report infants born alive to the state.

Health care providers say that the chances of an infant being born alive after an abortion are extremely rare because third-trimester abortions are prohibited in Florida unless the life of the mother is in danger. Infants born before then could not survive, some abortion advocates said during testimony on the measure.

Scott, accompanied by his wife Ann and abortion opponents, signed the bill into law at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home in Cantonment. The Panhandle community is near Pensacola, home to some of the state’s most strident anti-abortion activists and the site of an abortion clinic bombing in 1984. Two abortion doctors were gunned down at clinics in Pensacola and a third abortion worker was also killed.

Federal judge refuses to block Internet cafe ban

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A federal judge on Tuesday refused to block a ban on Internet cafes sought by senior arcade owners, who say they’ve unfairly been lumped in with the predatory storefront casinos.

Lawyers for Broward County adult arcades Boardwalk Brothers, Inc., and Play It Again FLA, LLC, claimed the law is unconstitutional in part because it is vague and arbitrary and denied seniors who gamble at the arcades their First Amendment rights of association.

The plaintiffs failed to show how the law would prevent seniors from gathering someplace else, U.S. District Judge James Cohn wrote in a 19-page order.

“Moreover, there is no evidence before the Court that enforcement of the statute would force Plaintiffs out of business and prevent patrons from associating at their establishments. Instead, the statute merely limits the types of games that might be offered. And even if the statute did force Plaintiffs out of business, no citizen enjoys a constitutional right to play amusement games,” he wrote.

Cohn did not rule on the merits of the law hurriedly passed by the Legislature in response to a multi-state gambling sting in April.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill on April 10, less than a month after state and federal authorities arrested 57 people in connection with Allied Veterans of the World, a St. Augustine-based nonprofit accused of posing as a charity while running a $300 million illegal gambling ring. The gambling bust also prompted former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to resign. Carroll had worked as a consultant for Allied Veterans while a member of the Florida House.

The arcades also failed to convince Cohn that the statute goes too far. The “state has a significant interest in proscribing the behavior regulated in the statute” and “an important public interest in limiting gambling and preventing minors from gambling.”

Seniors from Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties traveled to Tallahassee to plead with lawmakers to spare the gambling establishments, arguing that the centers offer relatively inexpensive entertainment and spare them from being lonely.

Gov. Scott signs manufacturing tax break into law

Friday, May 17th, 2013 by Dara Kam

A manufacturing tax break, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s two priorities this legislative session, is now law.

Scott signed the measure (HB 7007) on Friday and touted it during a stop at a Tampa manufacturing firm.

Under the new law, manufacturers won’t have to pay sales tax on equipment purchases for three years, beginning in April 2014. Scott had wanted to make the tax break permanent, but lawmakers gave him a three-year window instead.

The new law also creates a new nonprofit corporation to oversee money awarded to the state from lawsuits connected to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The manufacturing tax break was caught up in some late-night maneuvers during the final week of session. Two days before the session ended, Scott had to act on a campaign finance bill and an ethics measure that were priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Scott announced he signed the bills about half an hour after the House gave final passage to his manufacturing tax break.

But House Democrats believe the tax break, tucked into a 96-page economic incentive package, is not official because the bill did not receive a two-third majority vote.

The state constitution requires a two-thirds approval for tax-related items that cause counties or cities to lose revenue or reduce a tax in which the local governments share.

Weatherford insists that the tax break did not require the supermajority vote.

_ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Business-backed Florida TaxWatch spots $107 million in budget turkeys

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida TaxWatch, the business-backed non-profit that calls itself a “government watchdog,” has targeted $107 million “turkeys” they’re suggesting Gov. Rick Scott red-line as he ponders the state’s $74.5 billion spending plan.

The 107 projects add up to just one-half of one percent of the total budget, and about $60 million less than the group identified last year.

TaxWatch’s pinpointed $9,330,422 in Palm Beach County projects, including:
_ $450,000 of the $1 million lawmakers steered to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s violence intervention program;
_ $6.5 million for Palm Beach State College’s proposed Loxahatchee Groves campus;
_ $1,280,422 for Place of Hope at the Haven campus;
_ $100,000 for a nicotine addiction drug treatment program at Scripps Research Institute;
_ $1 million for Glades Area Street resurfacing in Belle Glade.

Two Treasure Coast projects also made TaxWatch’s hit list: $2 million for renovations at Indian River State College at the St. Lucie west campus and $200,000 for interior renovations of the Golden Gate building in Martin County.

The group also tagged a $14 million Gulf Coast State College project for a Panama City campus, something Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, wants built.

And Senate budget chief Joe Negron’s

TaxWatch identifies “turkeys” as items that were put into the budget at the last minute or without public vetting, which “circumvent lawfully established procedures,” or which steer money to special interests or local areas without going through the bidding process.

Scott has until May 24 to act on the budget. The Republican, who is running for reelection, slashed a whopping $181 million from the spending plan his first year on the job, and cut $63 million last year.

Rick Scott adds Maryland to his hit list

Monday, May 13th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott’s extended his “one-way ticket” invitation to business owners in Maryland, the fourth state the governor’s targeted in an effort to get companies to relocate in the Sunshine State.

Scott, a Republican, issued similar appeals to businesses in California, Illinois and Connecticut, all states like Maryland headed by a Democratic governor.

The Scott, who’s running for reelection to a second term, invitation reads a lot like a campaign flier, boasting of how dismal Florida’s economy was when he took office in 2011 and taking credit for a 3 percent drop in unemployment and, according to his calculus, 300,000 new private sector jobs.

Most notably, though, is Scott’s characterization of how bleak things are in the states he’s targeted, using his press office’s frequent hashtag “ISN’T WORKING” to point out Maryland tax increases and lost jobs.

“We hope you’ll book a trip to Florida, and we hope you’ll make it a ‘one-way’ trip because we have the perfect climate for your business,” Scott’s letter reads.

After stumping around the state last week touting pay raises for teachers, Scott’s touring Florida to advertise his success getting lawmakers to sign off on a manufacturing equipment tax break. He’ll be in Jacksonville, Oldsmar and his hometown of Naples.

Scott’s still struggling to top his competitor-in-chief, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for the No. 1 spot as the best place to do business in the country, something he acknowledges in his letter.

Scott urged to veto $1 million for PBC Sheriff Bradshaw violence prevention unit

Thursday, May 9th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s proposed “violence prevention” unit, to prevent events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, got a thumbs-up from lawmakers but it’s giving others the creeps.

More than 200 people have e-mailed Gov. Rick Scott asking him to use his line-item veto on $1 million in start-up money for Bradshaw that the Legislature included in the state’s $74 billion budget.

“The Nazis would be proud of this program and it really scares me. There are to many problems that could arise. Bigger government and more programs is not going to result in less crime,” Delray Beach resident Jim Tingler wrote to Scott on May 3. “I, for one, am not willing to sacrifice my liberty for the promise of security.”

Read the full story here.

Senate confirms utility regulator after drawn-out debate

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 by Dara Kam

After more than 30 minutes of at times brutal debate, the Florida Senate reconfirmed Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar despite concerns that the regulator sides with utilities more often than consumers.

The Senate voted 26-13 to give Edgar, the longest-serving commissioner on the panel another four years on the panel that oversees utilities and approves utility rates.

Edgar was first appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005 and reappointed by Govs. Charlie Crist and Rick Scott.

But Edgar’s votes in favor of utility rate hikes, a personal bankruptcy and her involvement in a PSC dust-up involving Blackberry messages prompted a drawn-out debate on the final day of the legislative session about whether she should be replaced.

“My personal belief on this nominee is that she does not do an adequate job of representing the ratepayers and the consumers of the state of Florida,” said Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg. “My personal belief, based on my observations…is that she is fairly consistently on the side of the regulated entities as opposed to the consumers, especially with regard to electric rates.”

Latvala said he had planned not to submit her name for a vote and instead force Scott to either reappoint her or select someone new.

“I’m grateful to Governor Scott and the Legislature and am excited about working with them for the next four years!” Edgar said in a statement shortly after the vote.

Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, questioned Edgar’s rate-making decisions and their impact on “working class people” and the state’s economy.

“Give her a gold watch and say thank you for your eight years of service…Hit the reset button,” Legg said.

But incoming Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, defended Edgar, pointing out that she had been vetted and appointed by three governors and passed the scrutiny of Latvala’s committee.

“She’s human and fallible and unfortunately she and her husband had to undergo a bankruptcy,” Joyner said. “Nobody’s perfect. Her record is exemplary.”

Edgar weathered a PSC scandal involving BlackBerry messages exposed during a proposed Florida Power & Light rate hike in 2009. Edgar was cleared of wrongdoing by the Florida Commission on Ethics after an investigation into whether she broke state law by communicating through her aide with a Florida Power & Light Co. executive during a hearing. The ethics panel found no probable cause that Edgar violated state ethics laws.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said that the eight-year term limit for lawmakers should apply to Edgar.

“It’s about your constituents who have to pay these rates. I would love to see us put someone a little more consumer friendly on this commission,” he said.

Florida House approves election package – again – sends back to Senate

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 by Dara Kam

The secretary of state won’t be able to punish elections supervisors under a modified elections package approved by the Florida House and sent to the Senate for final passage.

The Senate is expected to finalize the measure, which requires supervisors instead to post online a report of their preparations three months prior to the election, in one of the last actions before the 2013 session ends later this afternoon.

The Senate had wanted to give the secretary of state, appointed by the governor, the authority to put the locally elected officials on probation and force them to pass a test before being able to be removed from “noncompliant status.”

But House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sided with the supervisors, who objected that Detzner already has the authority to review the local officials’ preparedness, give them written directions and take them to court if he believes they aren’t complying with the law.

Before the session began, Gov. Rick Scott, Weatherford, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, pledged to do something to fix the long lines and up to eight-hour waits encountered by many voters last fall.

Under the plan expected to go to Scott for signature, supervisors can choose from between eight and 14 days of early voting and stay open from eight to 12 hours per day. The 2011 law, HB 1355, shrank early voting from 14 to 8 days. GOP insiders said the 2011 law was designed to cut back on Democratic turnout in the 2012 election, a reaction to Florida Democrats’ support for President Obama in 2008 that helped him into the White House.

This year’s proposal also gives supervisors more options for early voting sites, and would allow add civic centers, fairgrounds, courthouses and government-run senior centers to the city halls, public libraries and elections offices they can now use.

“Reform is never final…We should be ready always to come here and make adjustments if we can make things better,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the sponsor of HB 1355.

Democrats applauded the effort but said it didn’t go far enough to reverse a 2011 elections package they blame for many of the problems.

Rep. Janet Cruz, who was the lead Democrat on the elections bill, called the effort “a very, very good big, big first step in solving the difficulties that our voters have faced.”

But, she added, “I want our citizens to know that we are not finished.”

Democrats contend that voters should still be allowed to change their addresses at the polls on election day. Current law, changed in 2011, requires voters who move outside of the county to cast provisional ballots – which have a greater likelihood of being tossed – if they don’t update their address before Election Day. Democrats contend that kept many college students from casting regular ballots in the fall.

The bill takes “solid steps” to “reform the deform that had happened” with HB 1355, incoming House Democratic Leader Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said. The bill isn’t “where we want to be but it’s better than where we are,” he said.

“Some of us feel like the bill hasn’t gone far enough. We want to go back to pre-1355,” Rouson said.

Scott mum on what changed his mind on campaign finance

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott did not say what made him reverse his opposition to a campaign finance measure he signed into law last night that increases contributions from the current $500 cap to $3,000 for statewide candidates like himself and $1,000 for legislative and local candidates.

Scott announced he had signed the measure into law half an hour after lawmakers delivered a modified version of one of the governor’s top priorities, eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment.

As late as this week, Scott said lawmakers hadn’t made their case for lifting the caps.

When asked what changed his mind, Scott responded: “Like everything, you listen to a lot of people and try to make the best decision I can for every citizen in the state. So I made the decision to sign the bill last night.”

When asked if his approval was linked to the manufacturing tax break, Scott still gave no insight.

“Look, I look at everything. But I made the right decision for all Floridians with regard to that individual bill,’ Scott said. Asked again, he reiterated: “Look, I review every bill. And I reviewed the bill and decided it was in the best interest for the citizens of the state.”

The manufacturing exemption House with a 68-48 vote, smaller than the two-thirds margin required by the constitution for tax breaks, prompting confusion over whether the tax break can be implemented or not. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and his staff insisted the tax break did not require the 2/3 majority. House Democrats contend it is invalid and does.

When asked if Scott was concerned about the kerfuffle over one of his top two priorities, the governor again gave nothing away.

“I’m excited. I’m excited for our jobs. this is a reduction in our taxes so we get more manufacturing jobs. as I travel the state, people are excited about it. I’ve been traveling the state for the last two or so months just talking about this,” he said.

Senate signs off on Scott manufacturing tax break

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 by Dara Kam

With less than 72 hours left in the session and two priorities of House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz hanging in the balance, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a manufacturing equipment tax break, one of just two items on Gov. Rick Scott’s wishlist.

The modified tax break approved by a 37-3 vote late Wednesday would exempt manufacturers from paying sales tax on manufacturing equipment for three years. Scott’s original proposal would have cost the state about $100 million per year, but the plan approved by the Senate would shrink that to about $18 million, according to the amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange. Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale and Democratic Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Arthenia Joyner of Tampa voted against it.

“(Scott’s) had modest requests this session. I think we need to get behind him,” Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said before the vote.

Lawmakers moved closer to Scott’s other priority – a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise for teachers – yesterday.

Meanwhile, Scott has until midnight tonight to act on two of the GOP leaders top priorities: ethics and campaign finance measures.

Scott has repeatedly voiced concerns about the campaign finance changes, pushed by Weatherford, which would increase current $500 campaign contribution limits for statewide candidates like Scott, who is running for reelection, to $3,000 and to $1,000 for legislative and local candidates.

DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz: Scott, Weatherford legacy will be ‘sickness, illness and death’

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 by Dara Kam

Sen. Maria Sachs, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Florida Senate Democratic Leader Chris SmithDemocratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz blasted Gov. Rick Scott for failing to use his clout to push the House to approve a Medicaid expansion that could cover 1 million uninsured Floridians.

The U.S. congresswoman from Weston also accused House Speaker Will Weatherford and the GOP-dominated House of “slavishness ideological dogma” behind their rejection of the Senate plan crafted by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

“Sickness, illness and death…will be their legacy,” Wasserman Schultz told the Senate Democratic Caucus this morning.

Wasserman Schultz, a one-time Florida legislator who served in both the state House and Senate, also blamed Scott for “having a deathbed conversion” about the Medicaid expansion and failing to use his bully pulpit to push the House to pass it.

With three work days left until the legislative ends on Friday, Scott has focused primarily on his two priorities – $2,500 across-the-board pay raises for teachers and a manufacturing equipment tax break – and is scheduled to work from 8 a.m until 2:30 p.m. today, including photo opportunity for the last half hour of the day.

The final week is “the most frenzied, intense time of the entire legislative session,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“The governor and his staff should be in the trenches working the phones, working the halls, doing everything they can to pass their priorities,” she said. “It’s just demonstrative repeatedly of his utter lack of leadership.”

Scott, who is running for reelection, is “trying to have his cake and eat it, too” by publicly supporting the proposal to provide health insurance for the poor, which has broad support from voters, but doing nothing to force the House to act, Wasserman Schultz said.

“Leaders take the initiative. They don’t wait to be asked. We’ll need to elect somebody else.”

She sidestepped a question about whether former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, would be a better replacement.

“I have no idea and I’m not here to talk about that,” she said.

Wasserman Schultz also praised Florida House Democrats for “rightfully” slowing down the session with a procedural maneuver forcing all legislation to be read in full in retaliation for the GOP’s refusal to support the Senate Medicaid plan.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who also served as governor, also appeared at the Senate Dems meeting this morning.

He congratulated them for joining with several GOP lawmakers to defeat a controversial “parent trigger” bill and a pension overhaul for state workers.

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