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21 posts from April 4, 2013

April 04, 2013

Miami-Dade mayor: Dolphins deal close


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Thursday night that negotiations with the Miami Dolphins over public funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium are “not far apart,” though the two sides have yet to finalize a deal.

“They have said what they needed and I have said ... what I am willing to give,” Gimenez said. “We are not far apart.”

A deal between Gimenez and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is crucial as the Dolphins look to schedule a referendum next month to approve raising hotel taxes to help pay for a nearly $400 million upgrade to the 1987 stadium.

Dolphins CEO Mike Dee went into a closed-door meeting with Gimenez at 3 p.m. Thursday. The mayor, who had a prior engagement, left shortly after 7 p.m., leaving his deputies and Dee behind to continue the discussions. Ross was expected to weigh in at some point in the night via telephone, Gimenez said.

The Dolphins are asking for $3 million a year from Florida and increasing mainland hotel taxes in Miami-Dade to 7 percent from 6 percent to fund about 43 percent of a $390 million renovation of Sun Life. Ross would use private dollars to pay for the rest.

Gimenez said a sticking point in the talks continues to be what portion of the hotel taxes would go to the Dolphins.

“That’s a big issue,” he acknowledged, otherwise calling it a “very simple deal.”

More here, with Douglas Hanks.

Federal budget cuts affecting cargo inspections at South Florida air, sea ports

Federal budget cuts to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol that have already delayed thousands of international passengers at South Florida’s air and sea ports are starting to affect a different type of cargo: flowers.

Ninety percent of all flowers imported to the United States arrive through Miami International Airport, where they are inspected by customs officers who specialize in perishable goods. If inspections are delayed, local importers run the risk of having flowers go bad — or at least not arriving in time to make it into refrigerated trucks for delivery across the country.

It’s not just flowers being threatened by the cuts. Tons of fish, fruits and vegetables — including 97 percent of all the asparagus brought into the country — must also clear MIA customs every day. They are being delayed by the federal cuts known as the sequester, which has resulted in slashed overtime pay for customs officers.

“We’re talking billions of dollars in goods,” said Bill Johnson, director of PortMiami, which has also seen slower cargo ship inspections since the automatic, across-the-board cuts began March 1.

The port has been trying to drum up new fresh-produce cargo business from countries such as Costa Rica, Peru and Chile, said Johnson said, who met Wednesday in Tallahassee with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to relay concerns that the customs delays could deter any potential deals.

Johnson spoke at a news conference organized at the airport Thursday by U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat whose Kendall-to-Key West district includes many small businesses that import flowers and produce. Garcia sent a letter Thursday to the House appropriations committee asking for “strong funding levels” for customs officers.

More here.

UPDATED: Did Rep. Marti Coley vote for other members?

Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, is considered one of the nicest members of the Florida House. So it may have been out of sheer southern courtesy that she pressed the buttons of other members during Thursday's floor session.

But it raises some questions: Were those members on the floor? Did she have their permission?

Visitors in the gallery watched Coley and wondered.


Here is the House rule:

Florida House Rules 9.5 forbid any member from voting for another unless they have that member's permission.

9.5—No Member to Vote for Another Except by Request and Direction (a) No member may vote for another member except at the other member's specific request and direction. No member may vote for another member who is absent from the Chamber, nor may any person who is not a member cast a vote for a member. (b) In no case shall a member vote for another on a quorum call. (c) Any member who votes or attempts to vote for another member in violation of this rule or who requests another member to vote for the requesting member in violation of this rule may be disciplined in such a manner as the House may deem proper. (d) Any person who is not a member and who votes in the place of a member shall be subject to such discipline as the House may deem proper.

UPDATE: Coley said she had permission to cast votes for other members of the House Thursday.

"During session today, I voted for Representatives Gonzalez, O’Toole and Patronis while they were away from their desks," she wrote in a statement. "In accordance with House Rules, each member gave me permission and specific direction to vote on their behalf."

Bill Nelson flip flops on gay marriage, backs it

Sen. Bill Nelson has reversed his opposition to gay marriage, becoming the latest senator to do so. Now, only six Democrats in the chamber are opposed to gay marriage. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, he wrote: It is generally accepted in American law and U.S. society today "... that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. I believe that. The civil rights and responsibilities for one must pertain to all. --- Alex Leary

Drone bills by Negron and Workman free and clear, so far

All is clear for legislation that would restrict the use of drones by Florida law enforcement -- though the use of the unmanned aerial surveillance devices are quite limited already by the Federal Aviation Administration.

And so far, a Senate and House bill seem to have wide support while avoiding any complicated amendments that might jeopardize their passage.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is sponsoring SB 92, which was discussed on the floor of the Senate Thursday.

“It’s important that as technology develops, we have protections to our privacy, our right to be left alone, and this bill tries to reach a delicate balance between giving our law enforcement an important tool but making sure that citizens are protected,” Negron said.

It bans local law enforcement officials from using drones without a warrant or threat of a terrorist attack and prohibit information collected by drones to be used as evidence in courts. But one of the exemptions, for cases in which the secretary of the U.S. Homeland Security determines there’s a credible threat of a terrorist strike, rankled Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker.

“I’m really concerned with us giving that much power to an unelected bureaucrat to have the ability to determine what is considered credible intelligence and what isn’t,” said Evers.


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Legislature moves to end local ‘living wage,’ sick time laws

The Florida Legislature voted Thursday to preempt local governments from enacting “living wage” laws and “sick time” ordinances.

HB 655 passed the Florida House in a 75-43 vote, largely along party lines. 

The bill is viewed as a direct challenge to Orange County, where residents gathered enough signatures to put a “sick-time” measure on the ballot. 

That measure would require many businesses to provide paid sick leave to their employees. If HB 655 is signed into law, it would largely render the Orange County ballot vote moot.

Other counties—including Miami-Dade and Broward—would also be affected because they already have “living wage” ordinances. 

Those ordinances require companies that contract with the county to pay wages that are higher than the federal minimum wage, and sometimes provide certain benefits. 

If HB 655 is signed into law, those “living wage” ordinances would be preempted by the state. That means workers in Miami-Dade County currently earning $12 or more per hour under the living wage law could see their pay drop down to the statewide minimum wage of $7.79 per hour.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, slammed the bill as a “slash-and-burn” approach. 

“The bill we have before us goes very, very far,” he said. “This is a destructive bill, with far-reaching unintended consequences.” 

But Republican lawmakers said the bill would stop Florida from having a “patchwork” of laws in its 67 counties, and create consistency for businesses. 

‘This bill provides consistency with regards to benefit packages across the state,” said Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta. “It levels the playing field.”

A similar bill in the Senate is less restrictive, focusing specifically on medical benefits.

Senate votes 36-4 to ban Internet cafes

After a rigorous debate, the Florida Senate sent to the governor on Thursday a fast-tracked bill designed to clarify that slot-like gambling machines operated in Internet cafes, South Florida's adult arcades and Miami's maquintas are outlawed in Florida.

The measure is a reaction to a federal and state investigation into Allied Veterans of Florida that has led to 57 arrests for illegal gambling, money laundering and racketeering. Police allege that that the pseudo veterans group made $300 million in profits by operating the illegal machines, but allegedly donated only 2 percent of its proceeds to charity. 

Legislators responded by concluding that the vague state law that allowed the gaming centers to operate needed to be clarified to give law enforcement more tools to shut down the illegal machines that have proliferated in strip malls throughout the state.

The Senate voted 36-4 for HB 155, which was approved two weeks ago 108-7 by the Florida House. Gov . Rick Scott has indicated he will sign the bill and it becomes effective upon becoming law. 

Voting against the bill were Democratic Sens. Joe Abruzzo of West Palm Beach, Maria Sachs of Delray Beach, Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Jeremy Ring of Margate.

Continue reading "Senate votes 36-4 to ban Internet cafes" »

Cancer fairness act wins Senate support

The Florida Senate unanimously approved a bill that will require insurers to provide the same level of coverage for orally administered cancer drugs than those administered through IV.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia already have similar laws on the books, according to the Alliance for Access to Cancer Care. In Florida, cancer medications in pill form are oftentimes much more expensive for patients than those received intravenously.

SB 422 is a personal crusade for Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, whose mother died of lung cancer. She choked up on the Senate floor while discussing the measure prior to today's vote.

Her colleagues all signed on to cosponsor the bill. Its companion in the House also has widespread support but has stalled at its final committee stop: Health and Human Services. Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, did not put HB 301 on the agenda for today's meeting.

“As we send it across to the House with its 90 cosponsors, I ask the chairman that it sits in front of to hear the bill,” Benacquisto said. “And I ask the Florida House to join us in giving patients access to treatment that will save their lives.”

Click here to read a Tampa Bay Times article about a Pasco County doctor turned cancer patient who says oral medications helped save his life.

The day in cannabis: Medical marijuana group rebrands, Pew poll shows majority want legalization


Two developments on the marijuana front today, one in Florida and one nationally.

The group People United for Medical Marijuana (PUFMM, get it?) is rebranding its effort to put medical marijuana on the ballot. Its new website: United for Care. The group is now being led by Florida trial attorney John Morgan and Ben Pollara, a top Democratic fundraiser. Libertarian and former Republican Roger Stone gives it a bipartisan feel. Coming soon: More Republicans to give it a multi-partisan flavor.

Nationally, the Pew Research Center release a poll showing that national attitudes toward marijuana are trending greener by the day:

"For the first time in more than four decades of polling on the issue, a majority of Americans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. A national survey finds that 52% say that the use of marijuana should be made legal while 45% say it should not.

"Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010. The change is even more dramatic since the late 1960s. A 1969 Gallup survey found that just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use, while 84% were opposed."

Two years ago, Gallup found a "record high" number of Americans favored legalizing it, 50%. And more than 64% percent of Americans, according to another Gallup poll, say the federal government shouldn't enforce federal anti-pot laws in the places where marijuana has been decriminalized.

Floridians aren't quite ready to say they're for outright decriminalization, according to the last poll paid for by PUFFM. But the poll indicates Floridians think it should be treated more like a speeding ticket than  a lock-em-up crime.

That poll, however, did indicate that more than 7 in 10 Florida voters favored medical marijuana. That link is here. Two years ago, about 6 in 10 favored medical marijuana in Florida. That link is here.

What's the Florida Legislature doing in the face of increasing public support? It's refusing to even hear bills to allow for medical marijuana. The issue doesn't even merit a vote. But the Legislature is hearing a measure to stop the sale of bongs.

On that note, we'll leave you with one last poll number: 52% of Florida voters disapprove of the job the Legislature is doing and only 25% approve, according to Quinnipiac University's last survey.


Environmental groups reach signature threshold for conservation amendment

Environmental groups announced a major hurdle Thursday in their attempt to put on the 2014 ballot a constitutional amendment to set aside $10 billion over 20 years to purchase and maintain conservation lands without raising taxes.

The measure, known as the Florida Water and Land Legacy Amendment, received enough verified signatures to have the legal language reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.

The proposal is backed by former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and 256 environmental groups across Florida. It would set aside 33 percent of documentary tax collected on real estate transactions for 20 years for land and water purchases, leases and restoration efforts.

The language of the amendment must next be approved by the Florida Supreme Court to be placed on the ballot.

Here's the release:

Continue reading "Environmental groups reach signature threshold for conservation amendment" »