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8 posts from March 27, 2012

March 27, 2012

Historic redistricting fight leads to historic scramble for House seats

As the Florida Legislature finished its historic special session and sent a revamped redistricting map back to the state Supreme Court Tuesday, another kind of history was being made.

Dozens of state House members were voluntarily house hunting, running for a different office, or planning to sit out the next legislative session to avoid a match-up with another lawmaker.

Republican James Grant filed papers Tuesday to run in a Pinellas-Hillsborough district that will force him to leave his current Carrollwood home. Rep. Perry Thurston, the incoming Democratic leader, planned to move in with his mom. Republican Eddy Gonzalez planned to rent in the Hialeah neighborhood where he grew up. And Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood was ready to move in with his adult son a town over.

"It's historic,'' said Rep. Will Weatherford, the Wesley Chapel Republican and incoming House speaker who led the House's redistricting effort. "It's the first time in the nation this many members have been drawn into the same districts where it wasn't a court order." Keep reading here.

Here's the list of the House match-ups:

Continue reading "Historic redistricting fight leads to historic scramble for House seats" »

Florida lawmakers failed to confirm hundreds of Gov. Rick Scott's appointees

The legislative session ended March 9 with the Senate dropping the ball and failing to confirm hundreds of Gov. Rick Scott's appointees to dozens of boards, from the state boxing commission to the Tampa Port Authority. Senate President Mike Haridopolos calls it an oversight. Was it? Senators frittered away hours listening to long-winded termed-out members give farewell speeches, and speculation is rampant that it was done on purpose, to give Scott a deft way to revoke appointments he now regrets making. But who?

Within 45 days, Scott must reappoint the lame-duck appointees. We will be watching closely to see which appointees are replaced.

Scott's appointments director, Chester Spellman, emailed all of the appointees, saying: "The governor is currently reviewing each appointment and our office will be in contact with you in the coming weeks once a decision has been reached. At this time it is not necessary to complete a new gubernatorial appointments questionnaire." (What is there to "review"? These were Scott's choices).

Continue reading "Florida lawmakers failed to confirm hundreds of Gov. Rick Scott's appointees" »

Audiotapes, video hint at North Miami corruption

In the past year, North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre had a nagging suspicion he was being followed. He also thought someone had his City Hall office bugged with listening devices.

It turns out Pierre was right; someone was watching and listening.

On Jan. 26, 2011, Pierre snapped a photo on his cell phone of a suspicious vehicle outside of his North Miami law firm. According to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigative report, the car belonged to an FDLE special agent.

In July, Pierre had secret cameras installed in his City Hall office and a private firm swept the space for bugs and wiretaps, costing taxpayers about $8,200.

Audio recordings obtained by The Miami Herald, and the FDLE report, confirm police conducted surveillance on Pierre, who did not return several telephone calls from a Miami Herald reporter on Monday.

The recently obtained recordings were taken on the day FDLE agents arrested Ricardo Brutus, Pierre’s nephew, on March 25, 2011. Brutus, who served as Pierre’s campaign manager in 2011, was charged with unlawful compensation after an undercover video showed him accepting a white envelope stuffed with bills from North Miami businessman Shlomo Chelminsky.

More from Nadege Green here, with audio and video.

Trayvon Martin's parents arrive on Capitol Hill

Hearing  

Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, attended a forum today on Capitol Hill, where Democratic lawmakers are looking at racial profiling and hate crimes. They were accompanied by Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, who represents them in Congress.

The forum wasn't an official congressional hearing, although it was sponsored by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee and led by its top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.

"We have a legal responsibility to end the killing of young boys of all backgrounds in America," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

The 17-year-old's death one month ago has inspired rallies and marches from coast to coast, and sparked a national conversation about racial profiling and justice. Students, some dressed in all black, have walked out of classes throughout Miami-Dade County. Celebrities and NBA athletes have adopted the cause. In Sanford, as many as 30,000 people showed up at a rally last week and more than 2 million people have signed an online petition and hundreds have donated money to help the family pay expenses.

House approves Senate map, sends it to the court

The Florida Legislature ended its two-week extraordinary legislative session on redistricting Tuesday, sending a redrawn map of new Senate districts to the Florida Supreme Court for one last review.

In a clipped, 90-minute session, the House voted 61-47 to approve the Senate-drawn plan — making no changes. It’s now up to the state’s highest court to decide if the upper chamber did enough to fix the flaws in the first map that provoked the court’s rebuke.

“I believe this is the right map at the right time.,” said House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Continue reading "House approves Senate map, sends it to the court" »

PolitiFact Florida: Rep. Jimmie Smith says lawmakers protected by First Amendment against drug testing

Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen torched Florida lawmakers for passing a drug-testing bill for state workers that excluded one class of government employees: elected officials who passed the law.

Hiaasen took particular issue with the proposal’s House sponsor Rep. Jimmie Smith, a Republican from Lecanto, and his explanation for a failed attempt to require drug tests for Gov. Rick Scott and legislators.

"It was found to be unconstitutional to drug test elected officials because it prevents us, as citizens, from having that First Amendment right," Smith said.

The defense was novel -- and also wrong. It turns out Smith confused elected officials with candidates, misinterpreted Supreme Court case law and cited the wrong amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Read on for our ruling.

Democrats calls for 'stand your ground' special session

Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, has asked Speaker Dean Cannon to call a special session for review of the "stand your ground" self-defense laws. Meanwhile, other black lawmakers are saying any action, including a task force appointed by the governor, should begin immediately.

Cannon's office said he disagrees with those requests because still too many unaswered questions about the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Photo(7)"Speaker Cannon feels that legislative action is premature at this point given the ongoing investigations as well as the upcoming convening of the Seminole County Grand Jury," spokeswoman Katie Betta said via email. "Speaker Cannon will be closely monitoring the situation and any new developments that may arise in the case. He will also make recommendations to Governor Scott regarding appointments to the Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection which will review the 'Stand Your Ground' law following the investigation by the special prosecutor."

Continue reading "Democrats calls for 'stand your ground' special session" »

Trayvon Martin's parents on Capitol Hill today

Trayvon Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, are expected to attend a forum today on Capitol Hill, where Democratic lawmakers will be looking at racial profiling and hate crimes.

The forum is sponsored by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. It's billed as a briefing on racial profiling and hate crimes, and is expected to assess the role of the federal government in those issues, specifically in 17-year-old Trayvon's case.

Among those scheduled to speak: Albert E. Dotson Jr., Chairman of the 100 Black Men of America, Inc., and Robert Parker, former Director of the Miami-Dade Police Department and Community Liaison for the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence project.

Trayvon was shot to death Feb. 26 while serving out school suspension in Sanford, where his father’s girlfriend lives. A neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, called the police to say he saw someone in a hoodie who looked high on drugs, and was suspicious because he walked too slowly in the rain. The unarmed teenager carried Skittles and iced tea, and was talking to his girlfriend on the phone, records show.

The 17-year-old's death has inspired rallies and marches from coast to coast, and sparked a national conversation about racial profiling and justice. Students, some dressed in all black, have walked out of classes throughout Miami-Dade County. Celebrities and NBA athletes have adopted the cause. In Sanford, as many as 30,000 people showed up at a rally last week and more than 2 million people have signed an online petition and more than 400 people have donated money to help the family pay expenses.

The forum is at 3 p.m. in room 2237 of the Rayburn House Office Building.