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Skeptical judges hear arguments in Bernard appeal of Senate District 27 election

Thursday, October 18th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A three-judge panel appeared skeptical Thursday of state Rep. Mack Bernard’s appeal of a lower court decision affirming his Democratic opponent Jeff Clemens as the winner in a Palm Beach County state senate race.

Bernard appealed Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’s ruling that the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board was correct in rejecting 40 ballots in the District 27 race that Clemens won by 17 votes.

The canvassing board rejected the ballots because the signatures did not match the voters’ official signatures in the voter registration file, indicating they may have been fraudulent.

Representing Bernard, former state Rep. J.C. Planas argued during a hearing before the 1st District Court of Appeal on Thursday that Lewis should looked beyond just the signatures to determine whether the ballots were valid. Lewis rejected Planas’ request to introduce affidavits of the voters, many of whom are Haitian-American. Planas also said Thursday Lewis should have looked at the entire voter registration forms to determine whether the writing on the absentee ballots was made by the same person.

And, Planas argued, Lewis should have examined the ballots the canvassing board accepted as well as the ones they rejected to ensure that they were consistent.

But the three judges appeared unconvinced, saying that a new Florida law passed last year severely restricted Lewis’s ability to examine anything other than the signatures on the ballots and the signature in the voter registration file. The law was intended to limit protracted legal challenges over absentee ballots in elections.

“It’s almost like you’re asking us to rewrite the statute,” Judge Nikki Ann Clark said shortly after oral arguments began.
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House, Senate leaders demand balanced federal budget

Monday, March 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

After taking billions of dollars in federal economic stimulus money to balance the state budget last year, Senate President Jeff Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul along with other GOP lawmakers are demanding that the federal government balance its budget to put an end to the escalating federal deficit now surpassing $12 trillion.

“Unless something is done with Washington’s irresponsible fiscal behavior, Florida’s economy will drown in debt,” Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said at a press conference this morning.

Atwater and his cadre want the feds to balance the nation’s budget as Florida lawmakers are constitutionally required to do in the Sunshine State.

But that didn’t stop the legislature under Atwater and Cretul from accepting at least $12 billion in federal stimulus money – more than $3 billion used to balance this year’s Florida budget and nearly another $6 billion plugged into next year’s. That money helped add to the nation’s rising debt.

“It’s a gaping inconsistency to take that money happily to fill giant holes in our budget and then turn around and criticize the very people who gave you the cash,” said Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is sponsoring a joint resolution that, if passed by two-thirds of the Florida legislature, would have the state joining 19 other states asking Congress to convene an amendments convention to propose a constitutional amendment requiring the balanced budget and limit federal lawmakers’ ability to pass mandated spending down to the states.

But Florida lawmakers have done the same thing to local governments over the past decade, forcing them to take up a large share of education spending by passing down mandates and making counties pick up the tab for other items.

Congress would have to call the amendments convention if 34 states make the request. Passage of the constitutional amendment would require ratification by three-fourths, or 38, of the states.

Should class size limits be watered down?

Monday, February 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Legislative leaders-in-waiting Sen. Don Gaetz and Rep. Will Weatherford are heading up a GOP initiative to water down constitutional class size limits approved by voters.

Gaetz, R-Destin, and Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, sponsored a constitutional amendment lawmakers are expected to put on the ballot this year that would undo some of the class size restrictions voters approved in 2002.

Floridians have already spent $16 billion to shrink class sizes but plummeting property tax collections – which pay for public schools – have sent lawmakers scrambling to foot the $22 billion-a-year tab for education.

Gaetz and Weatherford, who are expected to lead their chambers in 2012, will reveal details of their proposal at a press conference tomorrow morning.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate, recently said that he supports undoing the class size restrictions, which have been been introduced gradually and which school officials say costs too much and doesn’t benefit student achievement.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat is also running for the U.S. Senate seat Crist seeks, was the force behind the class size amendment in 2002 while he was in the state Senate.

He isn’t backing down from the limits, which are set to go into full effect by the end of this year.

“Eight years later, Tallahassee officials have not relented in trying to water down hard-fought class size limits while refusing to tackle the special interest bidding that is alive and well in the state capital, ” said Kendrick Meek, who served as Chairman of Florida’s Coalition to Reduce Class Size in 2002.

“Florida families cannot be shortchanged. They simply ask that their children not be packed into overcrowded classrooms. Instead of focusing on misguided priorities, Florida needs a long-term perspective to secure a better future for our children. Implementing the class size limits without delay is critical so our teachers can teach in classrooms where our students can learn. Moreover, it is important to note that our state needs to invest now in its human capital in order to reverse the tide of joblessness for tomorrow’s workers,” Meek said in press release.

Do you think the constitutional limits on class sizes should be lowered?

  • No (71%, 52 Votes)
  • Yes (29%, 21 Votes)

Total Voters: 73

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