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11 posts from August 15, 2013

August 15, 2013

Clelland and Zimmermann explain why they broke from Dems on SYG

It’s already been decided -- there will be no special session on stand your ground. Still, votes by lawmakers keep trickling in.

Florida’s Secretary of State office received 12 more votes on Thursday. The new tally is 90 lawmakers, 88 of them Republicans, voting against convening a special session that would address changing or repealing the law. Only 42 lawmakers, all Democrats, voted for it. The 27 lawmakers who still have yet to cast a vote have until Monday to do so.

About the only fun now is figuring which lawmakers will skip the vote and whether any more Democrats join Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, and Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, in voting against a special session.

So, why exactly did Clelland and Zimmerman stray from the party line?

Continue reading "Clelland and Zimmermann explain why they broke from Dems on SYG" »

Miccosukee tribe sues IRS, rather than settle, over its tax debt


On the hook for $170 million in income taxes and related bills, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians is suing rather than settling with the Internal Revenue Service over the tribe’s failure to report and withhold income from its gambling distributions to members.

But what makes the federal lawsuit filed in Miami so distinctive is that the tribe has mounted the counteroffensive not only against its longtime nemesis, the IRS, but also against Attorney General Eric Holder and the secretaries of the Treasury and Interior departments.

The crux of the suit: The contention that in 2005, the IRS reached a “secret deal” with the Miccosukees’ former Chairman Billy Cypress, his personal lawyer and the tribe’s general counsel to hand over the financial records of certain tribal members — a “bargain” that the U.S. government has exploited to wage an unconstitutional tax war against the West Miami-Dade tribe.

The tribe’s leader, Colley Billie, claims in the suit that he and the Miccosukee tribe members only discovered the deal in 2010 after Cypress left office. More here. 


Once roasted, now toasted: A rowing center gets the Scott treatment

SARASOTA — Gov. Rick Scott initially said "no."

The $5 million state lawmakers set aside in 2011 for a Sarasota rowing center was deemed to have no statewide purpose, and Scott vetoed it. Dubbed a "turkey" by Florida TaxWatch, the rowing center stood out amid $615 million in spending that Scott axed that year. It was a defining moment for the new governor, a grand gesture to his tea party base and discontent with government spending.

"Special interests probably aren't happy with the tough choices I made," Scott said with a swipe of his veto pen, "but I am confident everyone can agree that funding for our children and students is more important than pleasing Tallahassee's special interests."

Fast forward to Thursday. Scott stood at Regatta Island at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota under a crowded tent teeming with local officials, rowing enthusiasts, business leaders and ESPN analyst Dick Vitale, who thanked him for coming around to support the $40 million rowing center.

In the past two years, Scott has allowed the project $10 million in state funding.

It's an about-face that he says came after boosters of the project persuaded him of its statewide impact.

"They showed me the economics of it, and it just makes a lot of sense that we're going to get all those tourists here," he said. "And I'm very comfortable that on top of getting all those tourists here, they're going to spend money, and some of them are going to move their business here and buy some homes here."

But it's difficult to ignore that those pushing hardest for the state money have made sizable contributions to Scott's re-election efforts.

Read story here.



What happens to a protest deferred? Dream Defenders call it quits. For now


The monthlong student protest in the Florida Capitol will come to an end today, the Miami group known as the Dream Defenders announced.

The occupation began on July 16, three days after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The Dream Defenders pledged to stay until Gov. Rick Scott called a special session on "stand your ground," the controversial self-defense law that factored into the Zimmerman case.

Scott met with the protesters on July 18 but refused to call a special session.
The Dream Defenders tried to convince state lawmakers to call a session themselves but could not must enough support.

Dream Directors Executive Director Phillip Agnew claimed at least one victory: House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has promised a hearing on the stand your ground law this fall.

The group had also wanted to bring attention to racial profiling and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Frank Brogan says politics unavoidable in chancellor post

A story to be published in Friday's paper digs into the powers and responsibilities that come with the title of chancellor of the state university system. Now that Frank Brogan has announced he is stepping down, the search is on to find his sucesssor. Here is an excerpt where the article discusses how Brogan's experience as a politician may have influenced how he approached the job.

Brogan left his job as president of Florida Atlantic University to become chancellor, but his resume also includes a series of elected offices, including lieutenant governor and education commissioner.

Some say he brought a politician's approach to the job, avoiding confrontation and conflict to a fault. Brogan said politics is part of any job, but that is not why he chose to stay above the fray.

"You can always catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar; that's not a political style, that's a life experience and a philosophical bent that I take," he said.

But others wish Brogan were bolder during times of controversy, such as when Gov. Rick Scott requested that universities reject a 1.7 percent tuition increase tied to inflation.

Brogan told the university presidents what the governor wanted and why they should comply. But when they balked, he left it up to the universities to thwart Scott's campaign.

Privately, he feuded with former Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, the notoriously prickly lawmaker. In 2011, Alexander slipped language into the budget that would have reduced Brogan's $357,000 salary and eliminated a third of his 57-person staff. The cuts did not make it into the final budget.

Read more here.

Medical marijuana group collects +100k petitions, slows drive until Florida Supreme Court rules


A medical marijuana group says it has cleared its first major hurdle to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot: Collecting enough voter signatures to trigger Florida Supreme Court review of the initiative's language.

Since July, People United for Medical Marijuana collected at least 110,000 signatures -- well in excess of the 68,314 needed to start the review, said the group's treasurer and director, Ben Pollara.

Pollara said the group, nicknamed PUFMM, will temporarily suspend its paid petition-gathering drive until the court rules on the constitutionality of the proposal, which can't be misleading or cover multiple subjects.

Why halt now?

"You got $150,000 a week to pay to collect signatures?" Pollara asked rhetorically.

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UPDATED Miami mayoral candidate under attack from police union over statement in graffiti artist's Taser death

@msanchezMIA @drnoriega Suarez on Taser death

It has been a tough week on social media for Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, who is running for city mayor in the upcoming November elections.

A day after firing his commission office aide for posting a series of offensive messages on Twitter about constituents, Suarez came under attack Thursday for a paid political advertisement about an 18-year-old who died last week after getting Tased by a Miami Beach police officer.

In an ad posted on Facebook and Twitter, the commissioner said his thoughts and prayers went out to Israel Hernandez-Llach and his family.

The ad went on to reference a comment made by Mayor Tomás Regalado in 2010 about police response to gang violence in inner-city neighborhoods — at the same time that there was a series of police-involved shootings.

“The current City of Miami Mayor has said that ‘we will fight violence with violence,’" the ad said. If the City of Miami and its surrounding cities are truly going to become influential cities of the future, we must reconsider this way of thinking.”

Hernandez-Llach's family did not comment about the ad. However, Fabio Andrade, an activist in South Florida's Colombian-American community who has become close with the family, called it "repugnant."

"Why hasn't he called the family directly to express condolences or gone to the funeral home to speak to the family?" he said. "It's regrettable that a commissioner tries to use a family's pain for political purposes."

Thursday morning, Sgt. Javier Ortiz, president of the city’s police union, issued a statement to “shame” Suarez for attacking law enforcement officers in an ad Ortiz described as insensitive.

Continue reading "UPDATED Miami mayoral candidate under attack from police union over statement in graffiti artist's Taser death" »

FAMU Marching 100 band's first performance announced

Florida A&M University has announced that the band's first performance after a 19-month suspension will be at the first game of the football season on Sept. 1 in Orlando. The Marching 100 was suspended after the November 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.

Read more on The Times' Gradebook blog.

Former state Rep. Mitch Needelman arrested on bribery charges for incentives deal

Another economic incentive deal has run into legal trouble as former State. Rep. Mitch Needelman, R-Melbourne, was arrested Thursday on bribery and bid tampering charges relating to a contract he signed with Blueware. 

Also arrested was Needelman's business partner, lobbyist William Matthew Dupree and arrest warrant has been issued for Blueware CEO Rose Harr. Blueware promised the state it would hire 190 employees under a deal it signed in April 2012 with Enterprise Florida. Under the arrangement, Blueware would receive a $760,000 Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund and $550,000 in a Quick Action Closing Fund incentive when it created the jobs. More here on that. 

From FDLE:


MELBOURNE – Agents of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Office of Executive Investigations, arrested former State Representative Mitch Needelman, 60, and his one-time business partner, lobbyist William Matthew Dupree, 47. The two were charged with bid tampering and bribery related to the BlueWare scanning contract signed by Needelman when he was the Brevard County Clerk of the Court.  Needelman is also charged with official misconduct for allegedly directing employees to use private email accounts to circumvent public records laws. 

In addition to Needelman and Dupree, an arrest warrant has been issued for BlueWare CEO Rose Harr, 55, also on bid tampering and bribery charges. 

The investigation began in July 2012 when FDLE received information alleging Needelman approved Brevard County Clerk of Court contracts with BlueWare in exchange for personal financial gain for himself and Dupree.   The investigation focused on a multi-million dollar scanning contract for digitization of Brevard County records even though, at the time, BlueWare had no equipment to scan the documents. 

The investigation revealed that Dupree introduced Needelman to BlueWare CEO Harr and COO Nick Geaney in January 2012.  Download FINAL Summary Needelman (1)

Here's the post we did on it in April. 

Continue reading "Former state Rep. Mitch Needelman arrested on bribery charges for incentives deal" »

Political newcomer, marine corps vet, announces challenge to Atwater


Allie braswellAllie Braswell, head of the Central Florida Urban League and former Disney official, is running to be the Democratic challenger to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

"I’m not a politician. But what we’re getting out of politician Jeff Atwater is a go-along to get-along style that is hurting Floridians. Under his watch, billions in no-bid contracts have been given away and people with insider connections are getting rich off taxpayer money,” said Braswell, a Sanford native and son of a citrus truck driver and Marine Corps. veteran.

“We need a leader who will help protect taxpayers by cracking down on huge contracts that politicians are handing over to their supporters and political allies,'' he said. "I’ll be a fiscal watchdog who will hold our government and politicians accountable and fight to shift the focus of our leaders away from helping their friends and back to attracting good jobs to Florida."

As a first time candidate little known outside the Orlando area, Braswell is the clear underdog against Atwater, a formidable money-raiser who previously served as Florida Senate president and as a banking executive.

Braswell, after 13 years in the Marines, worked a senior technology officer and diversity manager at Walt Disney World, before taking the helm of the Metropolitcan Orlando Urban League in 2010 at the time the non-profit was struggling.

Continue reading "Political newcomer, marine corps vet, announces challenge to Atwater" »