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18 posts from April 27, 2012

April 27, 2012

Prominent lawyer, lobbyist Ron LaFace dead at 71

Tallahassee lawyer-lobbyist Ron LaFace, an affable presence in the halls of Florida's Capitol for decades, died Friday of complications from a recent stroke. He was 71.

A native of Miami, LaFace was a University of Florida law school graduate and ardent supporter of the Gators. He was a shareholder in the Greenberg Traurig law firm and a civic leader who served on the Leon County Civic Center Authority, Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, Florida Chamber and trustee of the UF law school.

"Ron was my partner of 40 years, but more importantly, he was my friend," said Fred Baggett, managing partner of Greenberg Traurig's Tallahassee office. "He leaves a void that will be impossible to fill, but he also leaves an incredible example of integrity and service for all of us to follow."

Barry Richard, a founding member of the firm's Tallahassee office, called LaFace "a highly respected member of the legal and governmental professions in Florida." LaFace assisted Richard in the firm's historic representation of George W. Bush during Bush v. Gore, the protracted legal battles that were part of the 2000 Florida presidential recount.

Before he entered lobbying, LaFace was an assistant attorney general under Democrat Earl Faircloth in the late 1960s.

LaFace's long-time clients included the Air Transport Association, Ford Motor Company and Wometco Enterprises. He was a founder of the firm Roberts, Baggett, LaFace and Richard, which merged with Greenberg Traurig in 1991 and became the firm's first office outside South Florida. Baggett on Friday recalled LaFace's work as a leader of a political coalition that worked to repeal Florida's unitary tax in the mid-1980s.

LaFace's nephew was Randy Roberts, a respected lobbyist for Publix Supermarkets, who died in 2009 at the age of 36.    

Funeral arrangements were not announced. On Friday afternoon, the front door of the Greenberg Traurig offices in downtown Tallahassee featured a black wreath and black ribbon.  

-- Steve Bousquet

Bill protecting Miami from property taxes on new Marlins ballpark garages signed by Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott signed on Friday a measure that includes language exempting Miami from having to pay property taxes on parking garages at the new Marlins ballpark in Little Havana.

Florida House Bill 7097 will ensure that the city does not have to pay $1.2 million a year in property taxes for essentially leasing the city-owned garages to the Marlins, a private entity, for home games and other events during the baseball season.

Lawmakers approved the legislation, pushed by Miami-Dade lawmakers and delegation chairman Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, on the last day of the annual session in Tallahassee.

The term-limited Lopez-Cantera is now running against Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia, who had said he might have to charge the city the taxes. Lopez-Cantera had not considered jumping in the race until the tax dispute over the garages arose.

Scott vetoes bill to let UF and FSU raise tuition rates

 After saying for months he does not believe in tuition increases, Gov. Rick Scott stuck to his word Friday and vetoed a bill that would have allowed unlimited tuition hikes at top universities.

It comes at a tense time for the state university system, with schools bracing for a state budget cut of $300 million. Even the 15 percent tuition hikes that universities are currently allowed to ask for don’t come close to filling the gap.

Had Scott signed HB 7129, universities that met 11 of 14 performance-based benchmarks would have been allowed to ask the Florida Board of Governors for unlimited hikes. The criteria included things like high GPAs of incoming freshmen and a high amount of research activity. Only the University of Florida and Florida State University would have qualified. 

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The week in PolitiFact Florida

Catch up on PolitiFact Florida rulings from this week, including today's story that analyzes Gov. Rick Scott's claim that there are 230,000 fewer unemployment compensation recipients than when he took office.

We continued working checking out statements from candidates in the US Senate race.

Up first: Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who said oil marketplace speculators have more than doubled over the past decade -- just like gas prices.

Our only Pants on Fire! of the week went to Republican Congressman Connie Mack, who said, "I have always said that I would be for drilling." Except, he hasn't. Read why.

We researched a claim from one of Mack's Republican colleagues in Congress, Florida Rep. Tom Rooney. Rooney said a Labor Department rule would "would even ban youth from operating a battery-powered screwdriver or a pressurized garden hose" on a farm. The department withdrew the rule hours after our post (quelle coincidence!).

We threw in a curve ball with our analysis of the viral Forbes column that claimed the University of Florida was cutting its computer science program while pumping up the athletic program's budget. We found the column missed a few important points.

We got local, too, checking out a claim from Pasco County Commission candidate Roy Oakley about his conservative record on a water management board.

Send us your suggestions for next week via Twitter, @PolitiFactFL, or email, florida@politifact.com.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer sounds off on New York Times opinion writer

The National Rifle Association's top lobbyist in Florida has squared off against a writer (and gun-owning hunter) who said in a New York Times opinion piece that the NRA cares more about unbridled gun rights than it does about actual hunting.

Lily Raff McCaulou's editorial called out the NRA for not supporting environmental issues that affect hunting and wildlife, and for paying more attention to things like assault weapons and unregulated gun use.

(Here's a link to the piece, titled "I Hunt, but the NRA Isn't For Me.") 

Marion Hammer, a former NRA president and the chief lobbyist responsible for Florida's Stand Your Ground law, is firing back. 

Continue reading "NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer sounds off on New York Times opinion writer" »

Gaetz tells Senate 'elections will be held on time'

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the Senate redistricting chairman and incoming Senate president, exalted in his redistricting victory Friday in a letter to his Senate colleagues, sent moments after the court validated the Senate's revised maps.

"Contrary to the fears or perhaps the hopes of the cynics and the critics, Florida’s citizens will now go forward to choose from among their neighbors who will represent them in the Senate and House of Representatives,'' Gaetz wrote. "Those elections will be held on time. Absentee and overseas ballots will be sent well in advance.  Early voting will occur as scheduled."

Here's his letter:

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Gov. Rick Scott will sign bill banning governments from hiring companies tied to Cuba

Gov. Rick Scott said on Friday that he intends to sign contentious legislation that would ban the state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba and Syria.

The governor will sign the bill on Tuesday in Miami, he told Spanish-language radio station WAQI-AM (710), known as Radio Mambí.

“As we all know, the record of the Castro and Assad governments are undeniably repressive,” Scott told host Ninoska Pérez Castellón. “I’m going to sign legislation that protects Florida taxpayers from unintentionally supporting dictatorships that commit such despicable acts.”

In throwing his support behind Florida House Bill 959, Scott sided with the near-unanimous majority of state lawmakers who voted for the legislation, which was authored by Miami-Dade Republicans who argued taxpayer dollars should not fund companies connected to oppressive regimes in Cuba and Syria.

Working story here.

Gov. Scott's director of appointments steps down

Chester Spellman, who held the low-profile but important and politically delicate post as Gov. Rick Scott's director of appointments, is resigning, the governor's office confirmed Friday.

Spellman, who worked for several non-profits before he entered government, will take the position of chief executive officer of Volunteer Florida next month. His last day in the governor's office is May 11.

“Chester has been an integral part of my team and has been a tremendous asset in helping me identify highly qualified individuals to serve on various boards throughout the state," Scott said in a statement released Friday. "I am pleased that Chester will continue to be a vital member of my administration in his new role."

It was Spellman's job to help screen thousands of applicants for the hundreds of boards and commissions whose members are appointees of the governor. Spellman was the person who notified hundreds of appointees who were not confirmed by the Senate that the governor's office would review their applications, and Scott decided to revoke 10 appointments out of nearly 350.

Spellman's successor as director of appointments will be Hannah Causseaux, who worked in House Speaker Dean Cannon's office handling public records requests and legislative appointments. A former Republican Party staffer who worked on House campaigns, Causseaux also is a former deputy scheduling director in the governor's office. "Hannah has a wealth of experience and will be a great addition to my office,” Scott said in a statement.

-- Steve Bousquet 

Rick Scott's choice for surgeon general has ties to USF, Jackson Memorial

John Armstrong, a University of South Florida health official and former Army trauma surgeon, will be the state's surgeon general and Department of Health secretary, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.

04.27.2012 Armstrong_DOHHe replaces Dr. Frank Farmer, who stepped down in March to help care for his wife, Peggy, who has breast cancer.

Armstrong has been chief medical officer of the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation since 2011.  He is also an associate professor of surgery with USF's Morani College of Medicine.

A graduate of Princeton and the University of Virginia, Armstrong completed his fellowship at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. He was with the US Army Medical Corps for 17 years.

He starts May 23.

Here's the release from the governor's office:

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Justice Perry warns of 'divide and conquer' approach to racial gerrymandering

In a strongly worded dissent to a portion of the Florida Supreme Court's ruling today upholding the Senate's redrawn redistricting map, Justice E.C. Perry warns that the approach used by legislators to split apart an historically black community in Daytona Beach could cause permanent harm to minorities in Florida.

Perry, who was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, concurred with the bulk of the majority opinion but criticized the Senate for creating Districit 8 by dividing the black community "which is also a largely Democratic-voting communty" and "diluting the voting power and even the influence of that historically black community."

Whether the dissent was enough ammunition for the Democratic Party, the NAACP and the coalition of voters groups who opposed the to pursue a challenge in court wasn't immediately apparent on Friday.

In a statement, Democratic Party of Florida spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said: “While today’s ruling raises serious concerns, we will continue our efforts to hold this Republican-led legislature accountable to the will of the people – something they have consistently ignored throughout this process.”

Continue reading "Justice Perry warns of 'divide and conquer' approach to racial gerrymandering" »