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Haridopolos Senate prez successor shoe-in

Friday, June 26th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Sen. Mike Haridopolos is almost certain to be elected to succeed Senate President Jeff Atwater now that he’s garnered the support of one of his chief rivals.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, issued a press release today endorsing the Melbourne Republican.

“Mike and I have been friends since our first day in the Legislature, and I am confident he will be a strong president,” the release said. “I will be honored to be a part of his leadership team and continue to serve my constituents and the Florida Senate in this capacity.”

Haridopolos, an anti-tax conservative, is slated to assume the presidency after the November 2010 elections, when 11 open Senate seats are up for grabs.

He’ll preside during the all-important redistricting and reapportionment sessions in 2011 and 2012.

Bennett, a moderate, said he will be on Haridopolos’ leadership team but did not say in what position.

Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican, is leaving the Senate to run for chief financial officer.

Jim King beats pancreatic cancer

Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

kingsSen. Jim King, diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer last month, is leaving the hospital cancer free, he wrote on his web page.

“Great news! A recent CAT scan tells me I will be leaving the hospital to go to a rehabilitation facility today – CANCER FREE. I consider myself one of the luckiest individuals in the medical world,” King, R-Jacksonville, wrote.

The former Senate President and long-time lawmaker underwent surgery for the cancer at the Mayo Clinic earlier this month and emerged in the 5 percent of survivors, he said.

King, an affable politician known for his proclivity for excess, said his recent experience has transformed him.

“To the people that I’ve “run with” for the last 20 plus years, this does not mean that I am coming back with a starched collar or judgmental preconceptions. I would rather be seen as an Ander Crenshaw or a Bobby Bowden. I still have many of my same views in regard to individual decision making, health privacy issues, etc., but I can assure you that the person that went in to this hospital two weeks ago today is a different person coming out. Who knows? Maybe my new “calling” will be as a survivor to give hope and to be an example of the fact that you may not be able to totally win, but you can certainly go toe to toe. My recovery period for this surgery could be as much as a year and it will be a year of some significant life style changes for me – such as no alcohol, limited diet and a reemphasis on healthy living. (I can just visualize some of you reading this and thinking – boy – is Jim ever going to be boring),” he wrote

Read the full text of King’s message after the jump or visit his web page at (more…)

Crist signs change to child custody law spurred by Lake Worth tragedy

Thursday, June 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The horrific deaths of two Lake Worth children at the hands of their father contributed to a change in law that broadens the information available to judges when deciding visitation rights.

Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law this week a measure that expands from third degree felony to first degree misdemeanor domestic violence convictions judges take into consideration when determining parental responsibility.

Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Ted Deutch sponsored the bill (SB 904) at the behest of Jennie Carter, the mother of 10-year-old Nelson and 8-year-old Crystal Camacho who died after their father, Tony, set his suburban Lake Worth home ablaze days before Christmas in 2006.

All three died in the fire. Camacho died of smoke inhalation after stabbing Crystal in the back, severing her spine and leaving her paralyzed as flames engulfed their home.

Camacho’s ex-wife Jennie Carter had requested a restraining order and supervised visitation for the children.

That was never granted.

Crist on swine flu, DNA database, TK, etc.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist weighed in on a variety of topics this morning after signing several law enforcement-related bills at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles this morning.

Sheltered from the blazing heat by tents, slews of department employees dressed in bright red shirts turned out to hear Crist speak and pose for pictures with the governor, who is also running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

Among the bills Crist signed today was one that will expand the state’s DNA database. Law enforcement officials, now limited to taking DNA samples from those convicted of crimes, will now be able to take DNA from anyone who is arrested.

But Crist defended the bill (SB 2276) which civil liberties advocates argue is too far-reaching and have threatened to challenge in court.

“I think it’ll be alright or I wouldn’t have signed the bill. I think that we need to protect first and make sure that our people are safe. I think that this legislation will help us to do that even better,” he said.

Read what else Crist told reporters at a gaggle after the bill-signing after the jump. (more…)

Oelrich on Crist veto: this from the “people’s” governor?”

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

s014The Senate sponsor of a bill expressed dismay that Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it yesterday and called into question the self-described “People’s Governor’s” motives.

Sen. Steve Oelrich said he was asked to file the bill that would have raised community college transportation fees by the students themselves.

The bill (SB 739) would have allowed community colleges to hike transportation fees by up to $6 per credit hour. Students requested the fees so they could have public transportation access on campus “just like university students do,” Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, said in a press release.

Because of the dismal economy, community college enrollments are increasing and access to public transportation and on-campus parking is limited, he said.

The bill passed in the House with a 108-4 vote and in the Senate by 37-1.

“Governor Crist’s veto of this bill confounds me,” Oelrich’s release states.

Oelrich took a jab at Crist, who’s dubbed himself “The People’s Governor” and frequently mentions “the people” in speeches.

“The students came to me with this bill. They have been working on it for several years; it was theirs,” Oelrich wrote. “Since the bill came from the People, I thought the Governor would appreciate that…I sincerely hope the veto was not the product of political expediency or retribution.”

Crist signed into law a bill allowing universities to hike tuition up to 15 percent, which all state universities are considering. He also signed into law nearly $1 billion in motor vehicle fee increases and another $1 billion in a buck-a-pack cigarette tax.

Crist bows to JD’s request to reopen $20 million citrus contract

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Senate SessionGov. Charlie Crist again succumbed to pressure from Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander regarding no-bid contracts inked by the governor’s executive agency staff.

Crist said yesterday he would re-open a $20 million contract to market Florida citrus.

Florida Citrus Commission staff recently recommended re-upping the contract with a Texas-based corporation without a public hearing or taking new offers despite a significant drop in citrus sales since the agency took over the contract.

“I think every contract ought to be open bid. Every time,” Crist said when asked whether he would re-open bids on the advertising contract.

When asked if he would order the commission to do so, he replied: “I think I just did.”

The orange juice struggle is the latest in what is becoming an increasingly sour relationship between Alexander, an heir to Ben Hill Griffin’s citrus fortune, and Crist.

Crist vetoed a bill Alexander sponsored that would have given lawmakers more control over high-dollar contracts with private vendors.

Since then, the Lake Wales Republican has publicly asked Crist to re-open bids on two multi-million dollar contracts that would have been automatically renewed had he not intervened.

Last week, Alexander asked Crist to re-bid a $44 million contract with Convergys for the troubled PeopleFirst human resources system.


No primary in Senate District 28 special election to replace Pruitt

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam


166_billramosflag003Former state representative Joe Negron will face off against Democratic challenger Bill Ramos and a virtually unknown write-in candidate in a special election Aug. 4 to replace retiring Sen. Ken Pruitt.

Negron avoided a potentially nasty GOP contest when his political nemesis Art Argenio suddenly dropped out of the race last week under pressure from Republican leaders to avoid a divisive primary. Argenio had sunk $40,000 of his own money into his ill-fated campaign.

Pruitt, who served as senate president two years ago, stepped down from his senate seat a year before he would have been forced to retire due to term limits. He announced his decision on the last day of the legislative session and has already been hired by a Boca Raton law firm specializing in land use and zoning issues.

Pruitt and former Gov. Jeb Bush have both endorsed Negron, adding to Argenio’s decision not to seek the post.

It would have been the second special election show-down for Negron and Argenio, who both served in the state House.


Crist likely to veto insurance bill

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist said today he will likely veto an insurance deregulation bill that consumer advocates charge will lead to rate increases.

Crist said he will probably not sign HB 1171 that would give carte blanche to insurers with more than $200 million in surplus to raise rates.

“The odds are not. But I haven’t made a final decision,” he said.

Department of Insurance Regulation chief Kevin McCarty urged Crist to veto the bill in a letter sent last month and last week saying that it would unfairly benefit large insurers and destabilize the insurance market.

It would also give a leg up to State Farm, the insurer that is canceling its Florida homeowners policies because McCarty rejected its rate increase requests, McCarty said.

State Farm was overexposed in Florida and would likely have canceled the policies regardless of how much they were allowed to charge, McCarty said.

“In fact, State Farm and other companies may actually use excessive rates to effectively non-renew policyholders under the ruse of consumer choice,” McCarty wrote.

Ken Pruitt joins PSL law firm

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

s028State Sen. Ken Pruitt has joined a law firm specializing in land use.

Pruitt, who is not a lawyer, is working for Weiss, Handler, Angelos and Cornwell, a law firm with offices in Boca Raton and Port St. Lucie.

The firm’s specialties include land use, commercial real estate and zoning, according to its web site.
Pruitt resigned from his District 28 seat on the last day of the legislative session for financial and family reasons.

The Port St. Lucie Republican served as Senate President from 2006-2008.

Pruitt was a well-driller who became involved in real estate during his tenure as a lawmaker. He was first elected to the House in 1990 and joined the Senate in 2002.

More on Pruitt’s new job on The Palm Beach Post later.

Gelber out of U.S. Senate race

Sunday, May 31st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Democrats appear to be spared a costly primary election for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez.

State Sen. Dan Gelber has dropped out of the race against U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who’s already collected more than $1 million in campaign contributions.

“It makes little sense — when we do face the prospect of real change in Florida — for me to participate in a potentially divisive primary for U.S. Senate that will only serve to diminish our chances against a very formidable and well-known Republican nominee,” Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said in a message posted on Facebook.

Republicans so far still have a potentially divisive primary on their hands. Former House Speaker Marco Rubio is still in the race against Gov. Charlie Crist despite Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer’s endorsement of the governor.

Democrats, too, want to avoid costly and potentially politically damaging primaries, as Gelber said to his supporters on a Facebook posting.

Gelber’s expressed an interested in running for attorney general, along with fellow senator Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and former state senator Rod Smith. Gelber’s name is also being tossed around as a possible running mate with CFO Alex Sink, who is likely to be the Democratic candidate for governor.
Read Gelber’s message after the jump.

Fire up your engines for GOP Senate candidates

Friday, May 29th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Senate President Jeff Atwater and his lieutenants are holding a Fourth of July fundraiser for GOP senate candidates at the NASCAR Coke Zero 400 sprint cup race in Daytona Beach.

Tickets for the race are $5,000.

That’s just 10 times more than the face value of two tickets for three full days of racing at the Daytona International Speedway.

Atwater, Senate President Pro-tem Mike Fasano and Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla are the hosts.

Jim King to undergo surgery for pancreatic cancer

Friday, May 29th, 2009 by Dara Kam

kingsSen. Jim King will undergo surgery to combat advanced pancreatic cancer, his wife Linda said in an e-mail today.

King, a Jacksonville Republican who served as Senate President and was first elected to the Florida House more than two decades ago, was diagnosed with cancer shortly after the legislative session ended earlier this month.

King was responsible for creating the James and Esther King Biomedical Research program, a grant program administered by the Department of Health named after his parents.

The surgeon who performed a biopsy and ultrasound on King received one of the grants, Linda King wrote.

“Together, we have decided on a course of treatment and will soon begin this journey. We have decided to take the surgical route since it offers, potentially, the best chance for a longer life. The surgery is very difficult, and the recovery even more so, but we have faced adversity before and won, and we have faith that we will this time as well,” Linda King wrote.

She also asked that well-wishers contact King or the family through his website,

Go to the jump to read the full text of Linda King’s message.

Argenio to drop out of primary against Negron for Pruitt Senate seat

Thursday, May 28th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Art Argenio is dropping out of an anticipated brutal GOP primary battle against Joe Negron to replace retiring state Sen. Ken Pruitt, according to a source close to the campaigns.

Argenio is expected to make the announcement at a 3 p.m. press conference at St. Lucie County GOP headquarters.

The pair, who both formerly served in the state House, clashed in a bitter special election primary in 1999 (won by Argenio) and another tough primary in 2000 (won by Negron). Democrat Bill Ramos has also opened a campaign and frequent-filing Democrat Stan Smilan has expressed interest.

Argenio would not confirm or deny reports that he will withdraw from the race but deferred to this afternoon’s media availability.

“We’ll be answering all questions then,” Argenio said.

A special June 30 primary and Aug. 4 general election have been scheduled to fill Pruitt’s Treasure Coast-Palm Beach County seat.

Lawson mulls CFO run

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Democrats are urging Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson to drop a challenge to incumbent U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd, also a Democrat, and run for a Cabinet post instead.

Lawson, an insurance agent, is being encouraged to run to replace Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, another Democrat who is leaving office after one term to run for governor.

That could make for an uncomfortable 2010 legislative session.

Senate President Jeff Atwater officially entered the race last week.

The chamber’s top Democrat and top Republican running against each other for the statewide race could put a hasty end to the bipartisan camaraderie the pair have enjoyed (mostly) during this year’s session.

Budget turkeys hiding out?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Something good has come out of the state’s dire financial straits.

At least according to Florida TaxWatch.

The business-backed government spending watchdog organization found just $15 million in budget “turkeys” this year, the lowest amount except for two years in more than two decades.

Last year, TaxWatch identified $110 million in turkeys – projects which are slipped into the budget at the last minute or without the usual review. The year before, the group targeted more than $250 million in projects they targeted for vetoes.

TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro said the state’s dire economy is the reason behind the shrinking budget bonanza.

But with $2 billion in tax and fee hikes and more than that in stimulus money added to the budget, he said he was surprised lawmakers restrained themselves from finding more ways to bring home the bacon.

“There’s nothing more delicious than spending OPM – other people’s money,” Calabro said.

He also said it was difficult to identify some potential projects that might fit into the budget category because of the stimulus funds. For example, more than $20.3 million is being spent on state transportation projects for “economic development.” But those projects have not yet been named.

The group performs the annual exercise before the governor signs the budget and exercises his veto authority, which Gov. Charlie Crist will do this week.

Biz group gives Adam Hasner thumbs up

Friday, May 22nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

hasnerscooter1House Majority Leader Adam Hasner got a shout-out from the association representing small businesses for his support of their agenda during the legislative session.

Hasner, a Delray Beach lawyer, led the charge on issues near and dear to the National Federation of Independent Businesses/Florida, including changes to the state’s workers comp laws.

He also was instrumental in killing an effort to get $444 million in federal stimulus dollars by broadening who is eligible for unemployment compensation.

But he was unable to drum up enough support for another of the association’s top priorities – a constitutional amendment to guarantee secret-ballot elections when workers vote to unionize.

He did shepherd it through the House, where an intense debate took place.

After the vote, Democrats requested that the debate be printed in the House journal, the official record of the chamber. Republicans voted the measure down.

The measure died in the Senate.

Crist lukewarm on growth management bill

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist defended a growth management bill that critics object would promote urban sprawl, saying it’s not as bad as some other proposals lawmakers were pushing.

The measure (SB 360) would do away with the state’s growth management laws requiring concurrency (that adequate roads be in place before construction is allowed) and requiring that large projects on mega land parcels undergo a rigorous review called a “development of regional impact.”

Crist said he doesn’t believe the developer-friendly measure will cause urban sprawl but acknowledged environmentalists’ complaints about the bill.

“I think there are some who are concerned about the impacts it may have and there are others who are very concerned about the economy and how it might help it,” Crist said.

Relaxing the growth management laws “might make it easier for the permitting process to be a little more efficient,” Crist said.

Department of Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham, who opposed an earlier version of the bill, met with Crist yesterday on the issue.

“I don’t think he thinks it’s perfect. I think that’s safe to say. But I think that he believes it’s a lot better than some of the other measures that were moving toward our desk and fortunately the legislature took care of things before the end of session,” Crist said.

Crist’s press office sent out a release saying the governor would sign the bill today with others dealing with economic incentives.

But the bill was later removed from the list of bill signings. His press office said it was mistakenly included.

Panhandle GOP lawmaker calls Marion Hammer a liar

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer is meeting with Gov. Charlie Crist this afternoon to ask him to veto a $6 million raid on the trust fund that pays for processing of concealed weapons permits.

Hammer said she requested the visit with the governor as soon as the legislation, included in the budget awaiting Crist’s signature, passed.

Hammer, a former president of the NRA, sent out an alert to NRA supporters and members of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, which she also represents, asking them to contact Crist about the veto.

Hammer is demanding the veto because the trust fund raid, part of nearly $600 million lawmakers took from trust funds to help plug a $6 billion budget hole, comes from fees paid by permit seekers.

At least one GOP lawmaker is taking the politically dangerous tack of alienating Hammer and powerful NRA.

Rep. Dave Murzin, a Pensacola Republican running for the state Senate, refuted Hammer’s position about the trust fund raid in a constituent newsletter sent voters in Senate District 2 where he is running.

“I have heard about during my visits throughout the district is the purported ‘sneak attack’ on gun owners by taking funds from the concealed weapons permit trust fund. Unfortunately, the complete story was not told,” Murzin wrote.

Lawmakers included a 40 percent increase in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ funding to process the permits, Murzin wrote.

Jim King diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer

Saturday, May 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

s008Sen. Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican who has served more than two decades in the legislature, has been diagnosed with advanced stage pancreatic cancer, his spokeswoman confirmed this afternoon.

“During a routine medical check up, Sen. King was told that he has advanced pancreatic cancer. While he will be aggressively treating this and seeking second opinions, he does understand that this type of cancer is difficult to treat and manage. Sen. King will fight this disease with the same fighting spirit that he has approached everything in life business and politics,” King, a former Senate president, said in a statement.

The King family is asking “that all media respect their privacy at this time” and direct all media inquiries to his spokeswoman, Sarah Bascom.

King, who is term-limited out of office next year, intends to fulfill the remainder of his term, according to the statement.

The avid Florida State University booster recently had expressed interest in becoming the chancellor of the state university system.

King was first elected to the state House in 1986. He served 12 years there before being elected to the Senate, where he served as president in 2002-2004, in 1999.

Foster kids assured access to their histories with new law

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law two bills helping kids in foster are and those who are getting ready to live on their own.

One bill (SB 126) makes it easier for former foster children to get access to their personal records. And it makes it easier for prospective foster and adoptive families to find out the histories of the children they are considering taking into their homes.
The law also requires state officials to keep complete and up-t0-date records for the kids in their care.

Another bill (SB 1128) makes sure that disabled homeless children and those in foster care have an advocate to make education decision.

Crist signed both bills into law today at a youth services center in Broward County.

Some former foster children have had problems getting their records, making it difficult for them to enroll in college or get a job.

Read about that here.

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