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9 posts from June 26, 2013

June 26, 2013

Lawyer group challenge speedy executions

Lawyers representing death row inmates filed suit with the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday in an attempt to invalidate parts of a law that Gov. Rick Scott signed two weeks ago that would speed executions.

The suit, filed by the public agency Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, called "The Timely Justice Act" a legislative overreach that takes away the judiciary's "efforts to shape, and authority to govern, the means and method of capital postconviction litigation." It named Attorney General Pam Bondi as the defendant.

The new law requires governors to sign death warrants 30 days after the Florida Supreme Court certifies that an inmate has exhausted all legal appeals. Once a death warrant is signed, the execution must take place within six months. The bill passed 84-34 in the House and 28-10 in the Senate. The new law will accelerate the fate of at least 13 of the 404 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals. If Scott signs the death warrants on the 13 eligible inmates, and their executions followed, he would be on a pace to put to death 21 people since taking office in January 2011. The only other governor who executed that many people was former Gov. Jeb Bush, who ordered the execution of 21 convicted killers over an eight-year period.  

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the accelerated pace, calling it the result of an “abrupt whirlwind of political maneuvering." Scheduled to go into effect on Monday, the law would violate the Separation of Powers by requiring “constitutional officers of the judicial and executive branches” to take immediate actions because of the legislative action, according to the suit. It also claimed the law suspends the writ of habeas corpus, violates due process by interfering with judicial resolution of constitutional claims, and will result in cruel and unusual punishments “contrary to evolving standards of decency.”

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In wake of four child deaths, Gov. Scott stands by DCF chief

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday said he supports child welfare secretary David Wilkins, following the fourth case in the past six weeks of the death of a child who had drawn the interest of administrators in the agency headed by Wilkins, the Department of Children and Families.

The Miami Herald reported that two-year-old Ezra Raphael of North Miami Beach died last week of blunt trauma and the medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide. DCF reported in February that the "risk is high" of danger to the child, but the agency closed its investigation without taking any other action, The Herald reported. Ezra's mother had previously been declared unfit as a mother and lost custody of an older child.

The other recent child deaths are detailed here by the Herald.

Commenting on the latest death, Scott told reporters: "You would hate for anything to happen to any child ... Any time anything like this happens, you take it very seriously and the expectation is you go back and make sure it doesn't happen again. I think Secretary Wilkins is doing a very good job. He's very committed to doing the right thing. He's very committed to making sure that every child is taken care of, and he'll do the right thing in looking into this."

A day earlier, following a Cabinet meeting, Scott praised Wilkins and his wife Tanya for their efforts to help foster children find adoptive parents and for helping to make Florida "the best place for children."

-- Steve Bousquet

Does immigration bill include a free 'ObamaCar'? Pants on Fire!

As chief defender on the right of the Senate immigration bill, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has been churning out press releases debunking myths about the bill.

"Remember the ‘Marcophone’ myth? Now we have the Obamacar myth," says a June 25 Rubio press release.

Yep, you read that right: Rubio, a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender, issued a press release claiming that a conservative slam against the Democratic president is a myth.

Rubio’s press release linked to a June 24 article on the conservative news site Breitbart with the headline "New Immigration bill has taxpayer subsidized Obamacars for youths." It featured a photoof a goofy-looking Obama climbing into a car.

"Breitbart News has learned there is a provision included in the immigration bill that could be used to give free cars, motorcycles, scooters or other vehicles to young people around the country over a period of 15 months after the bill passes," the story said. "The new provision is a result of the latest addition to the Corker-Hoeven amendment, which is essentially an entirely new version of the bill."

The claim was made multiple times on the Internet, including on Fox News on June 25. The commentators joked about the alleged car giveaway with contributor Laura Ingraham asking, "I want to know, are Segway scooters part of the deal?’ "

PolitiFact previously examined a claim by bloggers that proposed immigration legislation would give away taxpayer-funded cell phones. We ruled that claim False. That referred to grants aimed at helping American ranchers and others in remote locations along the border get satellite phone service so they can be in touch with authorities.

Are free "Obamacars" another rumor driven off track? Read more at PolitiFact.

Scott: Federal ruling won't change Florida's gay marriage ban


Reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he will uphold the voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution in 2008 that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

"It impacted federal law, not state law," Scott said of the high court's 5-4 ruling. "In 2008, Florida voters amended our constitution and said that we are a traditional marriage state, that marriage is between a man and a woman. As the governor of this state, I'll uphold the law of the land, and that's the law of our state."

Scott was asked whether he supports the state same-sex marriage amendment. "Look, it's the law of the land. Voters in 2008 decided we're going to be a traditional marriage state," he said.

Asked whether he has reconsidered his position on the issue, Scott replied: "Look, I've been married since I was 19. I believe in traditional marriage."

Wilton Manors celebrates Supreme Court ruling on DOMA

Broward's gay community smiled today upon hearing the news that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA. Here is a snapshot of what I heard from gay residents at restaurants and shops in Wilton Manors today -- the heart of the county's openly gay community:

Paul Hogan and Bill Sullivan have been together for more than three decades -- they met while working for U.S. Senators in Washington D.C. (Hogan for Bob Graham and Sullivan for George Mitchell) and ultimately got married on Election Day in Washington D.C. in 2012. They are co-owners of SoBeArt Antiques in Wilton Manors. 

"It's unconstitutional! -- Hello-o!" cheered Hogan who threw his hands up in the air and yelled 'Mazel Tov' when I asked for his reaction. "My president made a beautiful statement. ... I'm proud of my president."

The couple hopes that with the backing of the federal mandate that it will lead to the right to get married in Florida.

"I love living here -- as crazy as it is," Hogan said. "I didn't want to have to leave here to get married. Why can't I get married where I live?"

The decision left many couples hopeful that in the future they can share financial benefits the same as married couples. Many have endured the hassles and expense of trying to purchase joint home insurance, health insurance or other benefits.

"I hope we can leave each other our pensions," Hogan said. "That's the main thing - our inheritance and estates."

At Rosie's Bar and Grill, CNN's coverage of the Supreme Court decisions blared in the dining room while staffers decorated with red balloons. (The hangout which has rainbow colored lanterns dangling from the ceiling is known for their sense of humor -- there is a sign declaring "Drama Queen Drive" and a tad of sexual innuendo on the menu.)

"We have so many people here in longterm relationships denied the right to marry," said owner John Zieba. Now they have a chance to have their relationship recognized by the federal government, he said.

Richard Stetler, owner of The Best Wine Cellar, said the decision is "phenomenal." However he expressed doubt that the entire state of Florida would vote to allow gay marriage in the future.

"I don't think Northern Florida is going to allow it," he said.

Lamar Stockman, a Fort Lauderdale retiree who is not married but has a partner, declared Wednesday one of the happiest days of his life.

"I never thought I would see this in my life time," he said while eating lunch at Storks coffee shop. "All my life I have been under the impression this would never be approved."

Gary Rubinstein, a 57-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, said that he married his partner in September in New York.

"It's awesome -- amazing, the best thing ever," said Rubinstein, while at Starbucks. "I think it is just the tide of what is going to happen nationwide."

Nate Klarfeld, who chairs Broward's steering committee for Equality Florida, has been together with his partner for 10 years and they have three grandchildren between them. (Both had children from previous relationships.)

"I want them to be able to see us as a recognized couple," he said, while at Starbucks. 

Klarfeld said he thinks that opinion has changed due to the straight community interacting with openly gay people in everyday settings.

"I don't think it was due to massive education. .. It was over the water cooler, soccer games, seeing us kissing in the lobby, going to work."

I also spoke to Dan Daley, a 23-year-old Coral Springs city commissioner and Republican by phone today. (Daley is a former legislative aide to Democratic state legislator Ari Porth who is now a judge.)

"I think it is terrific," said Daley. "History has been made. Equality shouldn't be a partisan issue." 

Daley said he identifies himself as a fiscal conservative and moderate on social issues. He called out the Republican Party for "saying less government, less government, less government unless it is in someone's bedroom. ... The Republican Party needs to come into 2013 and realize some of their positions on issues are falling apart."



Dead woman receives absentee ballot for Miami Lakes mail-in referendum


Belén Alvarez Vásquez died nearly three years ago, but an absentee ballot was still mailed to her by the Miami-Dade Election Department for a Miami Lakes referendum that took place Tuesday.

“I don’t understand how they could have sent her an absentee ballot when she is dead,” said Ada Morales, Alvarez’s daughter. “The first thing I thought when I saw the ballot was that there was some kind of fraud.”

The Election Department’s spokeswoman, Carolina López, told El Nuevo Herald that the last time that Alvarez had participated in an election was in the August 2010 primaries, but that “up to now no notification of her death had been received from the state or the family.”

Morales said that she reported the death of her mother to the Social Security Administration. But a ballot was sent to Alvarez in early June — despite the Florida Election Department’s publicized update of electoral rolls.

More here.

Should Dolphins owner's new PAC have registered in Florida?


Florida Jobs First, the political action committee that sent fliers last week attacking three Miami lawmakers, registered as an organization under the IRS. But should the group, created by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, also have filed paperwork with the Florida division of elections?

Yes, said elections attorney J.C. Planas, a former state representative who raised the issue after the Miami Herald reported about the fliers. A spokesman for the PAC disagreed.

The fliers criticized three Miami Republicans -- state Reps. Michael Bileca, Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo -- for opposing the Dolphins' quest earlier this year for public dollars to fund part of a $350 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium. That's "electioneering," argued Planas -- the term under Florida law for advocating for or against a political candidate.

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UPDATED Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus chair to Miami Dolphins owner: Apologize for 'reprehensible' attack fliers


Sen. René García, the Hialeah Republican who chairs the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus, came to the defense Wednesday of the three Miami lawmakers attacked over their opposition to a failed proposal to renovate the Miami Dolphins' football stadium.

In a sharply worded letter to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, García asked for "a full and public apology" to lawmakers targeted by the fliers, which were mailed late last week by a new PAC created by Ross, Florida Jobs First.

"We understand that you certainly have a right to express your discontentment; however, directly attacking legislators because of their decision to adhere to their principles in standing with their constituency on an issue directly affecting your own financial viability is reprehensible and certainly condemnable," he wrote.

The Hispanic caucus did not take a position on the legislation, García noted, because its members -- like the Miami-Dade legislative delegation -- were divided on the issue. The three lawmakers targeted by the fliers, state Reps. Michael Bileca, Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo, are all Republican. Diaz and Trujillo are also Hispanic; Bileca is also a member of the caucus because he represents a district where more than 51 percent of voters are Hispanic.

Trujillo and Bileca were among the loudest voices who opposed the Dolphins' push to raise the mainland Miami-Dade hotel-tax rate and get a new state sales-tax subsidy to fund part of a $350 million makeover to Sun Life Stadium. The proposal died after the Florida House of Representatives failed to take it up before the end of session last month. Ross quickly vowed to get more involved in state politics.

"The attacks you initiated upon our Caucus members may diminish the sense of goodwill the Miami Dolphins have worked so hard to establish and preserve throughout the years," García wrote.

"I truly hope you reconsider the course of action you have embarked upon and issue a full and public apology to all elected officials you have attacked in your reaction to our democratic legislative process. This community deserves better discourse between its elected officials and business leaders."

UPDATE: In a written statement, Florida Jobs First spokesman Eric Jotkoff dismissed Garcia's letter.

"Senator Garcia's comments will carry as much weight with us as they did in the Senate, where his stance against the referendum was rejected by an overwhelming 35-4 vote," Jotkoff said.

"The people of Miami-Dade deserved the right to vote on the modernization and the 4,000 jobs it would have created. They deserved a fair shot at Super Bowls 50 and 51, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity they would have generated. Speaker [Will] Weatherford made clear after blocking the vote that he did it in part because of the Miami-Dade delegation, so we are just following the path he laid out by holding the opponents in the delegation accountable. We will keep fighting for jobs for Florida, just like we would expect every elected official to do."

This post has been updated to reflect that Bileca is also a member of the Hispanic caucus.

Despite warnings to DCF, 4th child in six weeks dies after agency told 'risk is high'

From Carol Marbin Miller

For the fourth time in six weeks, the state Department of Children & Families is investigating the death of a Florida child who, only weeks or months earlier, had drawn the attention of agency administrators.

The latest to die is Ezra Raphael, age 2. Police say they were “summoned” to Ezra’s home at 15664 NE 10th Ct. in North Miami Beach, at 11:08 p.m. last Thursday to check on a “sick and unresponsive child.” When paramedics arrived, police said in a statement, they found Ezra unconscious on the dining room floor. The toddler was pronounced dead shortly after he arrived at Jackson North Medical Center.

An autopsy showed that Ezra had sustained trauma to his back and body, and the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the boy’s death was a homicide, police said. At the time when Ezra was mortally injured, North Miami Beach police said, the boy had been left alone with 32-year-old Claude Alexis, his mother’s boyfriend. He has a lengthy arrest record. Alexis remains without bond at the Miami-Dade County Jail on first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse charges.

Ezra’s mother, 22-year-old Cierrah Raphael, was charged with neglect because “over a course of time, evidence showed that Cierrah repeatedly left [the boy] home completely uncared for and unattended,” a press release said. More here. 

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