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9 posts from August 8, 2013

August 08, 2013

Rapper Talib Kweli joins the Dream Defenders sit-in

Activist and rapper Talib Kweli joined the Dream Defenders today, their 24th day at the Capitol advocating for changes to the state's Stand Your Ground law. Kweli told the group that he was not here because of his music or fame, but because he felt the pull of their cause.

"My hope is that by your example the artists and the celebrities and the politicians and the athletes and the people who were raised to know the difference step up," he told the group while perched on a couch in Gov. Rick Scott's office. " Because it's really on us, I think you've got the right idea."

Kweli is well known in the hip hop community despite his lack of crossover success. His music contains socially conscious lyrics, with common themes of racism and poverty.

He said he learned about the sit-in from Harry Belafonte, who joined the Dream Defenders for a night in the Capitol last month. Kweli plans to spend the night, too.

Dozens of young activists, many wearing Florida A&M and Florida State university paraphernalia, crowded into the governor's office to hear Kweli during a press conference this afternoon. Then he spent another half hour listening to their concerns about Florida's laws and racism. 

Some highlights from his remarks:

On what it's like to join the Dream Defenders in Tallahassee: 

Continue reading "Rapper Talib Kweli joins the Dream Defenders sit-in" »

Corcoran gets behind "outsider" candidate to replace Fasano

The prize for first to file for Florida House District 36, which was left wide open Wednesday after Mike Fasano was tapped Pasco County Tax Collector, goes to Bill Gunter.

“It’s a nice day,” Gunter said hours after he filed paperwork announcing his candidacy Thursday. “I just feel like the constituents of the district need a voice for them.”

Gunter’s already got supporters like Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, who’s in line to become Speaker in 2016.

Now if only Gunter lived in District 36, which covers parts of coastal Pasco, the Republicans might really have something.

Turns out, Gunter lives further inland, about five miles away, or a 10-minute drive, from the district boundary. It’s a geographical quirk that kind of makes him the “outsider” candidate for the constituents of District 36. He really lives in District 37, which is firmly held by Corcoran.

For Gunter, residency isn’t a major issue. He said he plans to move by the date of the special election, which he said should be in eight to 10 weeks.

He said he knows the district well because of his job with the chaplain corps of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, and pastor of Redeemer Community Church, which isn’t in District 36 either.

“Many of the people I’ve served as pastor live in District 36,” Gunter said, “so I feel like I already know many of them and their issues.”

He said his church isn't exclusive.

"My church is mixed with everybody," he said. Though Redeemer is a Presbyterian church, he said District 36 residents who have attended his services are from all sorts of faiths, including Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists.

Jewish people?

“Of course not,” he said, “I’m talking about other Christians.”

When he moves, he said he doesn’t plan to sell his Roundelay Drive home, which he bought in 2003. He explained that he might lose next year in the regular election, in which case he would move back. He plans to move to a rental somewhere in District 36.

“Lord willing, if I win again, then it would be wise for me to settle down,” Gunter said.

But what if he loses this year? Will he be forced to live in a district he doesn't represent because he had to make arrangements in case he won? Gunter said he's still working out the details.

"You get into this knowing you'll make some sacrifices," he said.

Florida law allows candidates to run for seats in districts where they don’t reside. And Gunter has done this before. In 2012, he ran for a Pasco County Commission seat in a district where he didn’t reside. He lost, but he said it wasn’t an issue then.

“It was brought up a few times here and there, but it wasn’t like anyone harped on it,” Gunter said.

But Florida Republicans, especially Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, have made residency a major issue this year. He and media outlets have flagged several Democratic lawmakers -- Sen. Maria Sachs, Rep. Perry Thurston, Rep. Alan Williams, Rep. Hazelle Rogers, Rep. Joe Gibbons, and Rep. Jared Moskowitz -- for questions about their residencies. Latvala thinks the situation is so pervasive that he’s calling for a wider investigation.

When told Thursday about Gunter’s residency status, Latvala said he should be treated like anyone else.

“People need to live in the districts they serve,” Latvala said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s got to really move.”

Gunter said he would. He promised.

“I am committed 100 percent to moving,” Gunter said. “I will fulfill the requirements of the law.”

UPDATED: Stargel to serve on FHSAA public liaison advisory committee

Senate President Don Gaetz made an unusual appointment to the Florida High School Athletic Association's public liaison advisory committee on Thursday: Sen. Kelli Stargel.

Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, has been an outspoken critic of the organization, and has pushed legislation seeking to revamp its structure. The high school athletics bill she sponsored this year died during the session.

In 2012, Stargel was involved in a legislative effort to create a separate sports association for a handful of private schools.

"I've said all along that the FHSAA has the ability to make some good changes," Stargel said late Thursday. "They just haven't been willing to do so yet... Hopefully, we can have some important conversations now and make changes from within."

The public liaison advisory committee is tasked with creating recommendations on "policies and procedures that will improve the implementation and oversight of high school athletic programs by the organization," according to the FHSAA website.

Gaetz announced three other appointments Thursday:

* Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, will serve on the Southern States Energy Board.

* Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, will serve on the Education Commission of the States.

* Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, will serve on the Workforce Florida, Inc., board of directors.

Swelling Lake Okeechobee poses growing threat to aging dike


Lake Okeechobee keeps rising — and so do worries about an aging dike the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ranks among the most vulnerable to failure in the country.

With the massive lake swollen by a more than a month of heavy rain, the Corps cranked the flood gates open to “maximum” two weeks ago. That move infuriated residents on both coasts, coursing billions of gallons of foul nutrient-laced runoff down two rivers, but it also managed to at least slow the rate of rise.

So far, however, it hasn’t been nearly enough to reverse a troubling climb. Even with South Florida dodging the wettest remnants of Tropical Storm Dorian last week, daily storms continue to slowly push water levels up and put pressure on the 143-mile-long Herbert Hoover Dike.

The Corps held a news conference Wednesday to insist federal engineers are doing everything they can to minimize environmental impacts while protecting public safety but cautioned that nature, particularly the tropics, may play the biggest role in whether the lake will reach the dike’s danger zone over the next few months. Story fromm Curtis Morgan here


Did Florida lawmakers know what it meant to hand off health plan rate review to feds?

When Florida lawmakers decided during the 2013 session to hand off review of rates for new health plans for two years to the feds, it's not clear they knew what that meant.

PolitiFact recently rated True a claim from U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, that Florida stripped the state insurance commissioner’s authority to negotiate or refuse rates for plans on new Obamacare marketplaces.

PolitiFact’s reporting exposed limited understanding of the federal government's role even among legislators who knew the legislation best.

While the state can negotiate or reject rates it decides are out of line, the federal government can merely label the rate "unreasonable," and in extreme cases, disallow a plan's sale on the state's new marketplace.

It can't negotiate for lower rates on behalf of the state. It can't reject rates, even those it says are unreasonable.

Some congressional Democrats and consumer groups argue this leaves Floridians vulnerable to premiums an empowered state insurance commissioner would quash.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who sponsored the legislation that deferred rate review to the federal government, told PolitiFact he's confident the feds have the authority to "protect consumers."

But what about the ability to negotiate for lower rates? To reject rates? To engage in the kind of rate-making that Florida traditionally does?

"I don't know the answer to that question," he said. "I don't think they have the ability, myself. I think they have the ability to fully go ahead … to step in to protect consumers from unjustifiable premiums."

He suggested federal officials might have "multiple other methodologies" for doing that.

“I would hope that they do," he said.

He's partly right. In addition to rejecting plans from marketplaces, a new rule under the Affordable Care Act specifies a percentage of premiums that insurers must spend on care. A truly outrageous rate would eventually result in rebates to consumers. But that's later. At the start, higher premiums could simply scare consumers away from health plans, or force them to overpay.

Meanwhile, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who spoke up on behalf of consumers at committee hearings and made a last-minute vote switch to oppose the law, said details about the limits of federal rate-review authority were "never made clear."

(PolitiFact got its details from a final rule issued in May 2011, available with a few clicks on the U.S. Health and Human Services website.)

During committee hearings, she expressed confidence that the feds would use a wealth of knowledge to "set" rates. No one corrected her.

"I don't recall us going into detail about that," she said.

She said she was too busy pushing for an expansion to Medicaid that legislators ultimately refused.

"I hope that the insurance companies will propose reasonable rates," she said.

-- Becky Bowers, Tampa Bay Times staff writer

Dream Defenders to launch massive voter registration drive

The Dream Defenders, who are marking Day 24 of their Capitol sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott's office, announced they are launching a massive drive to register 61,550 voters by 2014 -- the margin Scott won by in the 2010 election. 

"We intend to register the people that are forgotten - the black, the brown, the indigent, the poor, the LGBT community and we will meet them where they are, in the classrooms, in the mall, at the club, on the corner, at the bus stop" said the Dream Defenders Executive Director Philip Agnew at a press conference Thursday.

He said the effort, which would enlist students on Florida campuses, would be geared toward issues, not candidates. "At the end of the day, we are not blue or red."

There's a need to "build power," Agnew said, so that "when the time comes again for us to move on issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, like racial profiling, like Stand Your Ground, we don't have to sit on the floor again."

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Could Fasano's exit tip balance of power for Senate presidency?

Ex-Rep. Mike Fasano's appointment as Pasco County tax collector didn't just end his legislative career. It put an end to an intriguing scenario that he might have sought a return to the Senate by taking on fellow Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, next year -- which would have improved Sen. Jack Latvala's chances of becoming Pinellas County's first Senate president.

Fasano shares Latvala's moderate philosophy and he's very popular in Pasco, so Simpson would have been in serious trouble. But Fasano says Simpson is "doing a wonderful job" and never seriously considered a Senate run, though he said there was "a big push by some people."

Simpson has heard the story that a privately commissioned poll showed Fasano with a huge lead over Simpson. Simpson calls that "a myth," but he'd like to know why anyone would have wanted Fasano to take him on. "I would love an answer to that question," Simpson said.

Simpson and the other 25 GOP senators must choose between Latvala and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the presidency in 2016, following Sen. Andy Gardiner of Orlando. The Latvala-Negron race is described as close. "It's basically tied," Latvala said. (Negron could not be reached; 16 of the 20 senators facing re-election in 2014 are Republicans).

Simpson is complicating the Latvala-Negron battle by holding out, at least publicly. "My opinions of both of them are forming," he said. He insists he's neutral even though Negron held a fund-raiser for him: "Jack Latvala has been very gracious to me ... Both gentlemen are fine people."

Another Tampa Bay senator who won't publicly take sides is Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. "I have" made a commitment, Brandes said, "but I don't want to get into the inner workings of Senate leadership."

Latvala aggressively backed Brandes' rival, Jim Frishe, in 2012 and Negron attended Brandes' election night victory party; Negron and Brandes also share libertarian views on some issues.

Brandes dismissed the idea that he should support Latvala because they are both from Tampa Bay. "You should support people you're philosophically aligned with," Brandes said. "You've got to think statewide."

The fight for control of the Florida Senate will likely go on until the 2014 session, and Brandes said: "I would say it's a very close race."

-- Steve Bousquet and Michael Van Sickler

Reps Bileca & Trujillo bash Miami Dolphins' owner for 'dishonest political attack'


A Miami Herald op-ed from Miami State Representatives Carlos Trujillo and Michael Bileca, who have been targeted by the Miami Dolphins for opposing the team's publicly financed stadium plans:

Since the early days of football, the sport and politics have been intertwined in our national identity.

There are even superstitions established around professional teams like the Washington Redskins and the outcome of presidential elections.

The popularity of football and the competitive drive demonstrated by players and teams is something we can all relate to. It does not, however, mean that our tax dollars should support a billion-dollar industry when Florida’s families are struggling to make ends meet.

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What people are saying about Frank Brogan

State university system chancellor Frank Brogan announced Wednesday that he was leaving Florida to take a similar job in Pennsylvania, a turn of events that surprised many around the state. For a full report of Brogan's depature, click here.

Here is a round up of a reaction to the news:

Florida State University President Eric Barron:

"He really worked hard to keep the lines of communication open with all the presidents and that's something to be appreciated. He clearly came at things with the perspective of being the leader of a university because he was the leader at (Florida Atlantic University). He clearly was comitted to a good university system and to pumping up our image and making sure that people knew just how good Florida universities are."

Florida Council of 100 Chairman Marshall Criser, III:

"Frank has served effectively and enthusiastically in many key leadership roles in our state, and he will be genuinely missed. We wish Frank and his family the very best in his new endeavor."

University of Florida President Bernie Machen:

"Frank has been a tireless higher education leader in Florida, and I wish him the very best of luck in his new endeavor."

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel:

Continue reading "What people are saying about Frank Brogan" »