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Senate Dems elect new leaders

Monday, November 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Florida Senate Democrats, up by two after November’s elections, elected Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale as their leader for the next two years.

And the 14 members of the Democratic caucus selected Maria Sachs of Delray Beach as Smith’s second-in-command as Senate Democratic Leader Pro Tempore.

Smith and his House counterpart, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, are the second pair of black Democratic leaders since Smith served as House caucus leader with former Sen. Les Miller of Tampa in 2005-2006. Both Thurston and Smith, who once ran against each other for a state House seat, are Fort Lauderdale lawyers. Smith’s

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and his second-in-charge, Sen. Garrett Richter along with former Senate president and now CFO Jeff Atwater attended the break with tradition. Today’s ceremony event was held in Old Capitol but generally a brief affair conducted on the chamber floors.

Facing Gaetz who sat in the front row, Smith called on the lawmakers to implement the federal health care law, something the GOP-controlled legislature has refused to do since the law was passed in 2010.

“The election’s over. It’s been debated…litigated and proscrastinated,” Smith said. “It’s time to implement Obamacare and show our citizens that Florida cares.”

Florida Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ panel to meet Thursday

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Frustrated by Gov. Rick Scott’s delay in assembling a task force to look into Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has put together a panel that will meet Thursday to look into the first-in-the-nation law.

The Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin has intensified scrutiny of Florida’s first-in-the nation law, which allows individuals to use deadly force when they feel threatened. Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman claimed he shot the unarmed 17-year-old in self-defense.

Smith, a critic of the law since it was proposed in 2005 and who voted against it while in the Florida House, said the nation’s attention on the law prompted by Martin’s death has the potential to have a devastating impact on the Sunshine State’s upcoming tourist season.

“Florida is in crisis mode. We have a big problem and it’s time for leaders to lead,” Smith, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, told reporters at a press conference this morning.

The panel, dominated by Democrats, includes prosecutors and public defenders from South Florida, including Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout, law professors and lawyers. Area judges and Nikki Grossman, head of the Fort Lauderdale tourism bureau, will appear before the group Thursday afternoon.

Smith said he wants to make recommendations for possible changes to the law to Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, and wants a special session to address the law.

Under pressure from black lawyers and public outrage over Martin’s shooting, Scott last month announced he was convening a task force after a special prosecutor he appointed to investigate the shooting completes her work. Haridopolos and Cannon have said they support the task force and want to wait for its recommendations before considering a special session. Smith twice asked Scott to speed up the task force but Scott insisted he wants to wait until the Martin investigation is finished.

But that could take more than a year, Smith complained. Smith, a black lawyer who has discussed the law on national news programs since the Feb. 26 shooting, said vacationers are expressing fears about coming to Florida because of the law.

“We will not sit around and wait for action,” Smith said. “The Florida brand is being portrayed in a negative light each and every day.”

Smith has also launched a web site – FloridaStandYourGround.org – and is eliciting public comments.

Smith’s group will take public testimony from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Fort Lauderdale library main branch and meet later that evening to decide what their next step should be, he said.

Bondi’s move on rights continues to draw pushback

Friday, February 25th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Sen. Arthenia Joyner of  Tampa and Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston on Friday renewed Democratic call for Attorney General Pam Bondi to drop her push to tighten Florida’s standards for restoring civil rights to felons after they completed their sentences.

 ”With a staggering unemployment rate of 12 percent, I’d think the attorney general would want to support any effort to help Floridians who have fully paid their debts to society, to find work,”  Rich said.

In a shocker for civil rights advocates and Democrats, Attorney General Pam Bondi is looking to undo Florida’s limited automatic restoration of rights for felons. Bondi said she was likely to have a proposal to put before Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet next month.

“I don’t believe any felon should have an automatic restoration of rights,” the Republican Cabinet member told reporters Thursday morning. “I believe you should have to ask, and there should be an appropriate waiting period” of three to five years.

Joyner, though, said she felt Bondi’s move was aimed at placating tough-on-crime tea party advocates.

“From fighting Floridians access to family doctors, to withholding civil rights, it seems the Republican politicians are more interestedin hurting Florida than helping her,” Joyner said Friday.

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