« January 15, 2013 | Main | January 17, 2013 »

18 posts from January 16, 2013

January 16, 2013

Trayvon's mom, Democratic lawmakers: Repeal Stand your Ground

TALLAHASSEE -- Flanked by lawmakers, the mother of Trayvon Martin fought back tears Tuesday as she called for the repeal of the Stand Your Ground law, which she believes has been used as a shield  by the man who shot her son.

“How many times are we going to bury our loved ones and not do something about it?”  asked Sybrina Fulton at a press conference in Tallahassee. “We need to get rid of the law.”

A handful of Democratic lawmakers have filed bills to repeal or scale back the self-defense statute that allows people who fear for their lives to use deadly force. While Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that reviewing gun laws was "the right thing to do," the proposals face an uphill battle in the Republican-led and gun-friendly Legislature.

Fulton's plea from the halls of Florida’s Capitol occurred at the same time that President Obama was pitching sweeping new restrictions on guns, including universal background checks for gun buyers, a new ban on assault weapons and a 10-round cap on ammunition magazines.

While states like New York and Colorado are moving to pass significant new gun restrictions,  legislative leaders in Florida have not made gun control a priority this year. Some leaders in the Republican Party, which holds most of the decision-making power in the Legislature, have reaffirmed their support for the Second Amendment in the face of calls for gun control reform and none have filed bills on firearms.

The pitch to repeal the Stand Your Ground law is a longshot proposal from Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami and Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. Both said that incidents like the death of Trayvon, an unarmed teenager shot to death in Sanford last year, is evidence that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law should be repealed.

“These tragedies renew the argument that Stand Your Ground laws make ordinary citizens feel empowered to shoot first and ask questions later,” said Williams. “We owe to not only Trayvon’s mother, who’s here with us today, but we owe it to future generations, we owe it to the citizens of the state of Florida, to ensure that these laws will not bring harm to their families or to our streets.”

The Florida Legislature passed the Stand Your Ground law in 2005, making Florida the first of two dozen states to pass similar legislation.

Continue reading "Trayvon's mom, Democratic lawmakers: Repeal Stand your Ground" »

Gov. Scott supports review of gun laws saying it's 'the right thing to do'

Gov. Rick Scott voiced his support for a broad review of Florida's controversial gun laws by state lawmakers Wednesday, saying the state's vital tourist economy depends on visitors being able to "feel safe" amidst an increasingly well-armed population.

"We have a legislative session coming up," Scott said during a visit to the Honeywell Aerospace plant in Largo, where he was touting his new plan to boost state manufacturing. "I think the right thing to do is go back and look at our laws."

The father of a teacher, Scott said he would particularly support looking at ways to make schools safer. But he did not specify which other areas of existing state law might deserve scrutiny, refusing to respond to questions about universal background checks for firearm sales and a ban on assault weapons.

"I want people to feel safe in our state," he said. Story here.

Continue reading "Gov. Scott supports review of gun laws saying it's 'the right thing to do'" »

PPP: Rick Scott would get killed by Charlie Crist, could lose to Alex Sink, Pam Iorio, Debbie Wasserman Schultz

From Public Policy Polling, which typically surveys for Democrats and liberals. Note: It looks like it didn't poll a Charlie Crist-Alex Sink Democratic match-up:

Raleigh, N.C. – While Floridians might not be familiar with some of the potential Democratic candidates running against Governor Rick Scott for the Governor race in 2014, poll numbers show that they are not happy with Scott’s job performance.

Florida voter approval of Rick Scott’s job performance is 33% with 57% disapproving.

When asked about the favorability of newly turned Democrat Charlie Crist, the former Republican Governor of Florida, voters have a 49% favorable opinion while 38% have an unfavorable opinion of him.
Among Republican primary voters, Governor Rick Scott has a 56% approval rating and 32% disapproval rating. When pitted against Republican Pam Bondi for Governor in 2014, Rick Scott leads (49-25). If challenging Republican Allen West, Rick Scott trails (37-38).

Continue reading "PPP: Rick Scott would get killed by Charlie Crist, could lose to Alex Sink, Pam Iorio, Debbie Wasserman Schultz" »

Senator vows to try again on ALF reform

The head of the Senate committee in charge of elder affairs vowed Tuesday to revive efforts to toughen the rules for assisted living facilities — and close the most dangerous ALFs.

As the state Legislature met Tuesday for the first time in 2013, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, chair of the Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, said she planned to bring back legislation that sank at the end of last year’s session.

At the hearing, resident advocates and ALF operators tried to sway lawmakers through passionate testimony. Elder advocates called for more oversight and tougher punishment for rogue facilities while industry leaders warned that more regulations could put the homes out of business.

Many people in the packed committee room held copies of The Miami Herald’s 2011 Neglected to Death series, distributed by Senate staff before the meeting. The Herald’s two-year series revealed that at least one ALF resident is killed per month from starvation, beatings or neglect at little-regulated homes in Florida.

“There’s so much information out there and so much that needs to be done, and we can’t drop the ball on this,” Sobel said. “This is a very very important issue, and this committee is going to get it done.”

The Agency for Healthcare Administration, which oversees ALFs, recommended proposals similar to those scrapped by the Legislature last year, from increased education requirements for administrators to a state website that would allow potential residents to shop facilities and rate them.

Several witnesses asked for more unannounced visits to facilities. Under current law, inspectors visit the state’s 6,000 facilities only once every two years, said Jim Crochet, Florida’s long-term care ombudsman.

Read more here. 

School officials make case to lawmakers for boosting safety funding

The conversation about how to improve Florida schools’ safety in light of the Sandy Hook massacre turned to funding today. Representatives from three school districts talked to the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee about how the state dollars they receive are spent and what they would do if they got more.

Scott Howat, senior executive director of Orange County schools, says the districts received $5.5 million from the state this year in Safe Schools funding. Half of that helps pay for school resources officers: one at each middle and high school and a team that rotates among elementary schools on a 1-to-4 ratio.

The district is also working withits  county and municipal governments in hopes of placing a resource officer at every elementary school. Parents are asking for it, Howat said. In addition, outside experts have been asked to help conduct a comprehensive security audit.

“It’s obviously a deep concern because of what happened at Sandy Hook and Newtown, Conn.,” Howat said. “We want to make sure that as we’re looking forward that we’re looking at this in a very holistic way.”

Each year, the state allocates Safe School funds that districts can use for a variety of prevention and intervention programs. During the 2012-2013 school year, $64.5 million was divided among the 67 school districts according to a formula that takes into consideration the district size and crime data.

That is down roughly 15 percent from the 2007-2008 school year, when the Safe Schools appropriation was $75.6 million.

Continue reading "School officials make case to lawmakers for boosting safety funding" »

Gov and Cabinet declare legal war over mansion expansion, lose first round

A Leon County circuit judge Tuesday rejected accusations by Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet that challenged the integrity of John K. Aurell, a prominent North Florida lawyer and son-in-law of former Gov. LeRoy Collins.

"I see no breach of contract and no violation of ethics on the part of Mr. Aurell,'' Judge John C. Cooper declared as he heard arguments from 14 lawyers who are battling over whether the state can buy land near the Governor's Mansion and The Grove, a neighboring estate once owned by the Collins family.

Aurell is married to Jane Collins, daughter of the late governor and a member of a commission that oversees the mansion. The family sold the house and surrounding grounds to the state in 1985 but retained several nearby lots. Last year the family donated papers, furnishing and memorabilia valued at more than $400,000 to the state.

The original lawsuit against Scott and 15 other state officials was filed last year by lawyer Steven Andrews after the state interceded and claimed the right to buy lots owned by the Collins estate. Andrews has a law office on one of the lots and contract to buy the lot from the estate.

Story by Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan here.

Are you ready for unlimited campaign donations to political committees?

Florida’s campaign finance system is so riddled with holes that a state ethics watchdog group will urge lawmakers Wednesday to open the spigot and let an unlimited amount of campaign cash gush into campaign coffers.

Integrity Florida, a non-profit, independent ethics advocacy organization, will tell the Houses Ethics and Elections Committee that the state should allow no-limits campaign finance in exchange for public disclosure of all donors.

Disclosure would be made within 24 hours of every check deposited to any state or local campaign account and every expenditure paid. The group also wants the elimination of powerful political slush funds that whitewash funds and shield donors, known as Committees of Continuous Existence.

“There is no evidence that caps on contributions are effective,’’ said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida. “The money is going to find its way into the system. It is broken in every possible way.”

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has made eliminating CCEs a political priority, told the Herald/Times that he is “open to considering” the removal of contribution limits.

“We already have a system that allows for unlimited money,’’ he said. Story here. 

The 'Rubio-Obama' immigration plan

by @MarcACaputo

The White House has said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's immigration plans, which could legalize the status of some of those unlawfully in the country, "bode well for a productive, bipartisan debate."

A reason for that optimism: Rubio's ideas and comments closely mirror those of President Obama in a 2011 policy speech in El Paso Texas.

"This is the Rubio-Obama immigration plan," Mark Krikorian, head of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, told Mother Jones.

"There's nothing substantive in Rubio's proposal that wouldn't immediately be agreed to by President Obama," he said, noting that President George W. Bush proposed a similar plan in 2006 that many Congressional Republicans helped kill.

With the Republican Party far more opposed to immigration reform than Democrats, conservative commentators have praised Rubio for his boldness. But they've also glossed over the fact that Obama proposed similar ideas.

Not only do Rubio and Obama's plans create a similar type of amnesty for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, the two politicians have used similar language.

Here's Obama unveiling his plan in May 2011, relatively little-reported at the time:

"Those who are here illegally, they have a responsibility as well.  So they broke the law, and that means they’ve got to pay their taxes, they’ve got to pay a fine, they’ve got to learn English.  And they’ve got to undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they get in line for legalization.  That’s not too much to ask."

Here's Rubio in the Wall Street Journal on the undocumented:

"They would have to come forward. They would have to undergo a background check...They would have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, maybe even do community service. They would have to prove they've been here for an extended period of time. They understand some English and are assimilated. Then most of them would get legal status and be allowed to stay in this country."

Neither Obama nor Rubio have issued bills. So it's unclear what the real specific policy differences would be on many of the finer details. Recent news reports say Obama wants a "pathway to citizenship."

But details about the latest Obama plan are even scarcer than details of Rubio's proposal. Rubio also doesn't believe his plan is a " blanket amnesty" because immigrants would have to pay penalties.

Continue reading "The 'Rubio-Obama' immigration plan" »