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21 posts from April 9, 2013

April 09, 2013

Ethics v. campaign finance: Is it showdown time?

Consider this series of events as they happened today:

The Senate Rules Committee guts a provision in the House campaign finance bill that would have raised the caps on campaign contributions for the first time in 20 years.

The Senate chairman of the committee has some choice words of observation about the House bill, a top priority of the House speaker.

The House State Affairs Committee, which had scheduled to hear the Senate's ethics bill, postpones the hearing on the Senate bill -- which just happens to be a priority of the Senate president.

The chairman of the House State Affairs Commission releases this statement:

"In today's State Affairs Committee meeting, we decided to TP [temporarily postpone] the ethics bill due to 12 amendments that have been filed on the bill,'' said Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island. "With so many amendments, we needed more time on the bill and feel that the committee process is the appropriate place for substantive debate on these amendments."

The 12 amendments? From Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. They would have added to the House ethics bill many of the provisions that have been recommended by the Florida Commission on Ethics and, in many ways, would have created more distance betwen the House and Senate bills. 

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, acknowledges there's a tit-for-tat trade off here. "They keep telling me there's going to be no ethics bill until there's a campaign finance bill,'' he said. 

Obviously, more to come. 

Absentee ballot witness rule worries elections chiefs

The Senate Rules Committee approved an elections bill Tuesday on a 10-5 party-line vote, setting the stage for floor action on one of the major issues in the 2013 session.

The bill (SB 600), sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, expands early voting sites and gives election supervisors the discretion to offer 14 days of early voting, including the Sunday before the election. The minimum amount of early voting is eight hours over eight days, including the Sunday nine days before Election Day.

Latvala's bill drew a rating of "B" from the League of Women Voters of Florida, whose president, Deirdre MacNab, called the bill "strong." She said the bill would be better if it repealed the 2011 requirement that voters who move from one county to another cast provisional ballots.

The Senate bill's most controversial provision remains a requirement that any voter who casts
an absentee ballot has to get another adult to witness the voter's signature. "That is just a recipe for disaster," said Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley. His sentiments were echoed at Tuesday's Senate hearing by elections chief Paul Lux in Okaloosa County, where, he predicted, the ballots of many military personnel would be rejected.

"There's  no tangible benefit to the voter, and this provision will result in more ballots being not counted for our military members," Lux testified.

Latvala said the requirement that an absentee ballot be witnessed was the law for decades, but the Legislature repealed it in 2004. A recent Miami-Dade County grand jury recommended that it be reinstated as a check against voter fraud, and Latvala said Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle has lobbied in support of it.

But  election supervisors predict that a lot of absentee ballots will be discarded because voters will overlook the witness requirement. The witness provision is not in the House elections bill, and Corley said he  was "confident" that the Senate would eventually eliminate it from the bill before the end of the session.

Senate Democrats say the bill  doesn't go far enough, and that the state should mandate 14 days of
early voting in all 67 Florida counties.

-- Steve Bousquet


Rick Scott sounds like he's warming to Dolphins' stadium plan

Gov. Rick Scott sounds as if he's warming more and more to the idea of a Miami Dolphins stadium-subsidy deal, indicating that the club is meeting the conditions he laid down in March.

"I like the fact that the Dolphins are putting a lot of [the club's] money up," he said Tuesday, the day after the football team inked an agreement with Miami-Dade County. "I like the fact they’re committing to stay. I like the fact that there’s a referendum. They’re fulfilling those obligations. But I haven’t seen the return-on-investment numbers, which of course is the biggest thing."

Scott, however, sounded a note of caution. He needs to see final legislation. And the state House and Senate have different bills.

Still, when asked if the Dolphins club was moving in the right direction, he said: "Yeah. The biggest thing is the return on investment. I’m responsible for the taxpayers to get a return."

Wage theft bill narrowly passes House Committee, exempts Miami-Dade, Broward

A bill that would outlaw new “wage theft” ordinances—similar to the one in Miami-Dade County—narrowly passed the Local & Federal Affairs Committee in the House on Tuesday.

The bill, HB 1125, is the latest in a multiyear attempt by the business lobby to outlaw local laws that govern the act of “wage theft,” or employers refusing to pay employees. The push has failed in previous years, and a judge upheld Miami-Dade’s program last year.

This year, the business lobby is hoping a less aggressive approach will work. HB 1125 would grandfather in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, while outlawing other counties from passing new “wage theft” ordinances.

Miami-Dade County created a program in 2010 to address wage theft, launching an administrative process that helps employees recover lost wages from their employers. The program has recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages since it was created via ordinance in 2010. The Florida Retail Federation filed a lawsuit to challenge Miami-Dade’s program, but it was dismissed by a judge last year.

In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the bill would leave the ordinances intact. Any counties looking to enact wage theft ordinances in the future—including Alachua County—would be banned from doing so in the future.

The bill would force victims of wage theft to take their case to civil court, after giving their employer a “demand letter,” allowing them 15 days to pay the disputed amount. Courts could only award “economic damages,” and awards for punitive damages or repayment for attorneys fees would be prohibited. The bill also reduces the statute of limitations for wage theft claims from two years to one year.

Continue reading "Wage theft bill narrowly passes House Committee, exempts Miami-Dade, Broward" »

Love isn't cheap: PolitiFact checks claim on the higher costs for gay couples

First comes love, then comes marriage ... then comes the potential savings of a joint tax return. That’s the story for opposite-sex couples, but not necessarily for same-sex couples.

Gay couples aren’t entitled to some of the money-saving benefits available to opposite-sex married couples. But how much lost money is it for a gay couple?

Equality Florida, a group that advocates on behalf of the gay community, raised that topic as the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases related to gay marriage in March: a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. (For more on the cases read PolitiFact’s primer.)

The DOMA case stems from a financial issue involving Edith "Edie" Windsor, who lived withThea Spyer for 44 years; they married in Canada in 2007. After Spyer’s death in 2009, Windsor had to pay $363,000 in taxes on her spouse’s estate rather than inheriting it outright, as mixed-gender married couples routinely do.

Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, wrote in a press release on March 27 that she was hopeful the Supreme Court would move to end the federal ban on same-sex marriage:

"If observers are correct, gay married couples including my wife and I will not be faced with tax forms that require us to lie and deny the existence of our spouse. The financial penalties imposed because we are considered legal strangers can cost us more than $300,000 compared with married heterosexual couples over a lifetime. In a stroke, this financial burden will be erased."

PolitiFact researched how Smith concluded that gay couples can pay $300,000 more than heterosexual couples over a lifetime.

Senate committee rejects raising campaign contribution cap

The Florida Senate sent a message to the Florida House Tuesday that it will gladly eliminate political slush funds but it won't raise campaign finance limits to do it.

The Senate Rules Committee passed its version of the House priority, a rewrite of the state’s campaign finance laws, but only after stripping out a provision that would have raised the campaign finance limits from $500 per election to a tiered system up to $3000 per election for statewide candidates.

The committee was the last stop for SB 1382 and the amendments added to the bill by its sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, and Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, were clearly intended to influence the Senate’s bargaining position with the House. The position also bows to Gov. Rick Scott, who repeated his opposition to raising the cap on campaign contributions in Miami on Tuesday.

"No one’s explained to me why they want to do it. That’s the first thing,'' Scott told reporters. "I want to keep as many people involved in campaigns as possible....No one’s giving me a rationale."

The House passed HB 569 with a 75-39 vote along mostly party lines on March 22. It is a top priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford and it is intended to end the abuse of political committees known as Committees of Continuous Existence, or CCEs, by legislators who raise unlimited funds, write checks to other candidates and finance personal entertainment, travel, meals and other lavish expenses.

Continue reading "Senate committee rejects raising campaign contribution cap" »

High-school 'free agency' bill keeps moving in the House. Is hope alive?

A contentious bill that would limit the power of the Florida High School Athletic Association continues to move in the House -- despite appearing to be dead in the Senate.

The proposal, from Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, would ease some of the restrictions on student transfers, and curtail the FHSAA's ability to investigate potential recruiting violations. It would also revamp the structure of the organization, which represents some 800 different schools in 32 different sports programs.

The FHSAA has fought against the bill, saying it would open the door to "high-school free agency."

The House version won the support of its third and final committee Tuesday, and is now headed for a vote on the House floor. But the Senate version, sponsored by Rep. Kelli Stargel, has yet to receive its first hearing, and many Senate committees have stopped meeting.

Is the House simply trying to make a statement? Or is there some behind-the-scenes maneuvering taking place to get this language heard in the Senate?

Metz wouldn't answer questions after the meeting Tuesday. But his legislative aide said Stargel was working on getting her bill heard in the upper chamber.

Read the backstory here.

Commission sets special Miami Dolphins meeting


The Miami-Dade County Commission has agreed to hold a special meeting Wednesday to set a referendum date for the proposed subsidized renovation to the Miami Dolphins’ football stadium.

Seven of 13 commissioners — Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Sally Heyman, Barbara Jordan, Jean Monestime, Xavier Suarez and Juan C. Zapata — signed off on Sosa’s meeting request for noon Wednesday. Sosa’s office had compiled the necessary signatures by 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, leaving enough time to advertise the meeting, which requires 24 hours’ public notice.

Commissioners are expected to cast two votes Wednesday: one calling for a countywide referendum on May 14, and the other conditionally approving the Dolphins deal, if voters ratify it.

Late Monday, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez endorsed a plan to provide the Dolphins with about $7.5 million a year in mainland Miami-Dade hotel taxes to renovate Sun Life Stadium.

The vote would take place a week before NFL owners meet to award the 50th and 51st Super Bowls. The Dolphins have agreed to forgo county money if one of the games is not awarded to the Miami Gardens stadium.

From fraud-ridden Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson targets tax ID theft


IRSWith nine of the United State's top 10 tax-ID fraud cities in Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson is again backing legislation to crackdown on the $5.2 billion crime.

The cities:

1 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 35,914 645.4

2 Naples-Marco Island, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,279 397.8

3 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 9,805 352.3

4 Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,810 292.5

5 Tallahassee, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,060 288.5

6 Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,692 281.0

7 Port St. Lucie-Fort Pierce, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,156 272.6

8 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area 12,992 246.6

9 North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 1,720 244.9

10 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL Metropolitan Statistical Area 4,991 233.8

Here's the press release:

Continue reading "From fraud-ridden Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson targets tax ID theft" »

Hispanic Leadership Network's Miami meeting features Jeb, Diaz-Balart, Fortuño, Ralph Reed


From a press release:

WASHINGTON, DC - The Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN) today announced the agenda for its “Family Reunión” conference to be held next Thursday, April 18th, and Friday, April 19th, at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami, Florida. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez will serve as conference co-chairs. The two-day gathering will bring together more than 15 distinguished speakers and panelists.

“This year’s HLN conference will focus on three of the most pressing policy matters for Hispanics - the economy, education, and immigration. We will come together as a family to discuss our concerns and hopes for the future. I am honored to co-chair the conference with my friend Carlos Gutiérrez, and look forward to a spirited public debate about the best path forward,” said Governor Jeb Bush.

The conference kicks off on Thursday night with a welcoming reception featuring both co-chairs, as well as former Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño.

“We are proud to once again provide a platform for conservative Hispanics to have a dialogue with our national leaders about the issues that most affect our community. We hope to inspire Hispanics nationwide to continue the policy debate long after our conference,” said HLN Executive Director Jennifer S. Korn.

On Friday, the conference program includes two panel discussions on Immigration and Economy & Education. Former U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello will deliver the keynote address, marking the third anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. In addition, HLN will host two breakout sessions focusing on grassroots advocacy and the media.

The full agenda is below as a JPEG