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9 posts from August 20, 2013

August 20, 2013

Property appraiser sues Miami-Dade County over office's independence


Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera sued Miami-Dade County on Tuesday to gain more independent control over his office.

Lopez-Cantera asked the Miami-Dade Circuit Court to rule on how much control, if any, county commissioners and Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration have over the property appraiser’s powers.

“The county attorney has refused to recognize the will of the voters when, in 2008, they overwhelmingly voted to make the county property appraiser an independent, constitutional officer,” Lopez-Cantera said. “That is why today I have filed an action with the circuit court to remove any doubts regarding the nature and independence of the office.”

County Attorney Robert Cuevas has opined that the property appraiser is essentially an elected department head with some extra powers — but not as many as those awarded to constitutional officers named in the Florida Constitution.

According to Cuevas, the matter was settled in a 2008 lawsuit in which Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely ruled that the property appraiser was a local — not a constitutional — position under Miami-Dade’s home-rule charter. That ruling was never appealed.

But because Miami-Dade voters did not expressly vote on whether the property appraiser would be a constitutional officer or an elected department head, Lopez-Cantera contends the court must still weigh in on that ambiguity.

More here.

Former lawmaker upset his photo was used in Miami Beach campaign flier

@cveiga Flier

You may have seen his picture at the bottom of an email blast for Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower’s latest run for city office, but former state Rep. Luis Garcia wants everyone to know he is “adamantly opposed” to Bower’s candidacy.

Garcia sent out his own email blast stating, in capital letters, that Bower “does NOT HAVE MY support,” and that his photo was used in the campaign ad without permission.

Said Bower: “I am very sorry that that went out. It was something that I didn’t look at it close enough, and it was my fault. I will make sure that it never happens again.”

In the campaign ad, Garcia, a Democrat, appears in a small picture at the very bottom, alongside photos of other Florida pols, including former Gov. Charlie Crist. In the Garcia photo, the former representative appears to be patting Bower on the back.

“I hope that this campaign at such a critical time in Miami Beach will not deteriorate into more dirty tricks and underhanded attempts to confuse the voters and distract from the real issues,” Garcia wrote. “There are too many examples of a lack of integrity in our leadership and we do not need more of this behavior.”

He also wrote that he endorses Bower’s opponent, Sherry Kaplan Roberts, for the Group III commission race. Also running in that race: Michael C. Grieco and Joshua Dunkelman.

Continue reading "Former lawmaker upset his photo was used in Miami Beach campaign flier" »

Miami police chief to DOJ: We don't need a court monitor in wake of deadly shootings


Arguing that the Miami Police Department has come a long way since a rash of deadly police-involved shootings, Chief Manuel Orosa has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to reconsider its decision to have a federal judge oversee the department.

Orosa, in response to findings last month that Miami engaged in an unconstitutional “pattern or practice” of excessive use of force, suggested that the Justice Department instead consider collaborating with the police department to forge changes.

Miami should not pay for the “sins” of its previous leaders, Orosa said in an Aug. 6 letter to Justice, laying much of the blame for the shootings on his predecessor, Miguel Exposito. Orosa said Justice should consider suing Exposito personally, as opposed to the department.

“It is my recommendation that if the USDOJ aims to seek sustainable remedies for our nation’s law enforcement agencies, it should hold those leaders personally responsible for their actions and accountable through civil action,” he wrote in the letter, obtained by the Miami Herald through a public records request.

In an interview Tuesday, Exposito called Orosa’s suggestion “ludicrous.”

“Nothing he says people can take seriously,” he said.

Exposito issued his own detailed rebuttal to Justice in an Aug. 8 letter to U.S. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. The former chief defended his tenure and asked the Cuban-American Republicans to request a Senate inquiry into the Justice investigation, which Exposito blasted as slipshod.

More here.

Video: Rick Scott on trashing Obamacare, his grandkids, Marissa Alexander...


Mail.google.comIt's a moment every proud grandparent probably encounters: You want to talk about your grandkids, others want to talk about something else.

So it was Tuesday in Miami after the Florida Cabinet met. Rick Scott had photos ready of his new grandson Quinton and 21-month-old August.

But Scott, unlike other grandparents is governor and had just finished another bout of trying to cast more doubts on Obamacare. So after 47 seconds or so (approximately a quarter of his 3:24 press avail, but who's counting?), here's what he said about his specific concerns regarding the so-called "Navigators" program and how he'd respond to those critics who say he's trying to scuttle the Affordable Care Act:

Scott: "Here’s my concern. At the state level, the Legislature passed a good bill last year that’s going to allow us to register the Navigators. So at least we know who they are. They’re going to be fingerprinted, and things like that.”

“It is surprising that they can’t have an insurance background. That’s surprising. What my concern is is that we have no control over how the data’s going to be used. As you know, privacy has been a big issue for me. I’m concerned about privacy. We don’t know how this information is going to be used.”

Without elaborating, Scott said many people have become “surprised” recently with how the government tracks data.

What of the criticisms of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair?

Scott: “The attorney general is doing the right thing by asking for information from Secretary Sebelius. But they’ve got to tell us how they’re going to use the information. You should know if they’re going to have your information, how it’s going to be used, when they’re going to use it, what agencies are going to have it. I mean, this is your personal information. They need to let us all know. I think we all have an expectation that we know how our data’s going to be used.”

On SYG session vote, GOP 100 percent unified; Dems not so much

It’s been one of the most contentious issues state lawmakers have had to face, and three of them chose to skip it.

Three state lawmakers -- all Democrats -- skipped voting on whether to hold a special session on Stand Your Ground. Those not bothering to let their constituents know where they stood on the issue were: Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Kissimmee; Sen. Joe Abruzzo of Wellington and Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando. They didn’t cast a ballot by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, thereby forgoing a vote on holding a special session.

A legislative aide for Rangel, who refused to give his name, said it was a moot issue because the question of holding a special session had been decided last week, before Monday's deadline. The aide said Rangel was still making up his mind when the session was voted down. So, where does Rangel stand on the issue of a special issue?

"As far as I know, he wasn't forced to make up his mind," the aide said. 

Abruzzo also said he didn't think it was necessary to vote.

"The votes were already tallied, the determination was already made," he said. Abruzzo did say that he wasn't opposed to a special session on stand your ground, but thought there were more urgent priorities.

"I wouldn’t be in favor of holding a special session on stand your ground ahead of one on health care," Abruzzo said.

As for the law itself, Abruzzo said he favors making changes to it, but not repealing it. He said there should be something in the law that prohibits vigilantes and provides police with greater ability to detain those who use stand your ground as a defense in homicide cases.

Soto could not be reached.

According to the Florida Secretary of State's office, which conducted the poll of lawmakers, Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, also did not vote. That's a bit odd, considering that Campbell was one of 33 Democratic lawmakers who sent in letters by Aug. 12 to request a poll of the Legislature. She said she supports a session. Campbell said she doesn't know why her vote wasn't recorded. She said her office replied twice to requests for her vote.

"I don't know what mistake was made, but it was their mistake, not ours," Campbell said Tuesday. 

A non-vote is the same as a “no” vote, so those four lawmakers, by not voting or having their votes recorded, joined seven other Democrats who voted against the special session. Those Democrats who did bother to let their constituents know that they were breaking with their party were: Rep. Mark Danish of Tampa; Rep. Katie Edwards of Plantation; Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee, Rep. Linda Stewart of Orlando; Rep. Carl Zimmermann of Palm Harbor; Rep. Mike Clelland of Lake Mary, and Rep. Dwight Dudley of St. Petersburg. 

All of the "no" votes came from Democrats in the House. Each one except Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who was elected in 2008, is a rookie lawmakers from a competitive district. Danish already faces a challenge from Shawn Harrison, whom he beat in 2012.

That looming race had nothing to do with his vote, Danish said.

"There needs to be a comprehensive review of Stand Your Ground," Danish said. "But a session would be narrowly focused at the expense of taxpayers and a broader review of the justice system."

The regular legislative process was the best way to conduct a review, he said.

That meant that of the 58 Democrats in the Legislature, only 47 voted for a special session to repeal or change a 2005 law that has sparked some protests in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting. So nearly 20 percent of Democrats were peeled away from the party position to hold the session.

By contrast, all 101 Republicans in the Legislature (minus Mike Fasano, who left his Pasco House seat to serve as tax collector) voted. All voted against the special session.

Final score, as announced Tuesday afternoon by the Florida Secretary of Office, which conducted the poll of lawmakers: 108 against a special session to 47 for a special session. Democrats needed 96 votes for it.  

Here’s the final tally:


Continue reading "On SYG session vote, GOP 100 percent unified; Dems not so much" »

Senate plans four public hearings this fall on gaming's future in Florida

Garrett RichterThe Florida Senate will host a series of four public hearings this fall to seek public input on the future of gaming in the state, pivoting off the completion of a new report on the economic impact of the industry in Florida, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, told the Herald/Times on Tuesday.

The hearings are tentatively scheduled to be held in Fort Lauderdale and Lakeland in late October and in Jacksonville and Pensacola in mid-November. The Spectrum Gaming Group is expected to complete a report on the statistical relationships between gaming and the economic impact on communities in October. The Senate and House paid the company $388,000 to conduct an economic analysis of the industry. Part One of the report was released last month. 

The goal of the public hearings will be to gather community feedback on gambling in Florida, Richter said, noting that he was not prepared to suggest the Legislature will be discussiong expanding gambling.

Florida legislators last year passed a fast-tracked bill to outlaw gaming at Internet Cafes, but then punted any discussion of Florida's gambling laws by hiring Spectrum to complete its study.

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have said they are prepared to take up legislation relating to the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, because a portion of the 20-year agreement expires in 2015. But there is no guarantee that the push by companies such as Las Vegas Sands and Genting to bring destination resort casinos to Florida will get a hearing.

"The Spectrum report should provide for a lot of discussion,'' Richter said. He does expect legislation to clarify and tighten existing gambling laws.

A series of rulings from the Division of Parimutuel Wagering have spawned dozens of lawsuits as regulators have allowed "flag-drop" races to be considered a parimutuel sport, permitted slot operators to run electronic roulette and craps games in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, allowed a dormant jai alai permit to be used to expand the number of slot machines at Magic City Casino, and allowed Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream racetrack in Hallandale Beach to run a one-time race in June so they could offer thoroughbred races via simulcast year-round.

"Staff is going through the existing statutes line-by-line to determine whether we want to eliminate the ambiguities,'' Richter said. 


Miami Jai Alai files for bankruptcy in attempt to avoid foreclosure

Miami Jai Alai@Doug_Hanks

Less than two years after opening a casino, the Miami Jai-Alai facility filed for bankruptcy protection as its parent company fends off a foreclosure from the holder of an $87 million loan.

In a stock filing Monday night, Florida Gaming Corp. disclosed the Chapter 11 filing, saying the terms of a pending sale would essentially wipe out the company.

Last year, Florida Gaming agreed to sell itself to a New York-based casino company, Silver Entertainment.

The price, including debt: $115 million. But Florida Gaming’s agreement with lenders requires it to pay out $114 million at the time of the sale, plus a penalty based on how many slot machines its rival at the Hialeah Park racetrack managed to get approved and operational.

Hialeah Park opened its casino last week with 882 slot machines, and that means an additional $6 million toward lenders, according to Florida Gaming’s securities filing.

The bankruptcy filing is the latest twist in a messy fight involving the aging jai-alai fronton’s effort to become a thriving casino. More here. 



Rep. Castor asks GOP leaders to reinstate approval of insurance rates

Republican lawmakers are standing by their decision to suspend for two years the state's ability to regulate health insurance rates. But that hasn't stopped U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor from witing a letter to Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford asking them to reverse course.

Castor, D-Tampa, said that some lawmakers and even Gov. Rick Scott may have been misinformed when they supported Senate Bill 1842, assuming the federal government had the power to negotiate insurance rates. She says the lack of state oversight could cause premiums to be higher in Florida than they would otherwise under the health care law.

"This appears to be a cynical attempt to saddle Florida consumers with higher insurance rates simply to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and the new health insurance marketplace where Floridians and small businesses can shop and compare new health plans," Castor wrote.

The Legislature would have to call a special session in order to approve any new laws prior to the launch of the health exchange on Oct. 1. But again, with Republican leaders saying there is nothing wrong with the changes in Senate Bill 1842, that is unlikely to occur.

Click here to download Castor letter on insurance regulations.

Plans underway for statewide debate in next governor's race

Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association announced plans Tuesday to again jointly produce a live one-hour statewide debate in the 2014 race for governor. They hope to again secure commitments from network affiliate TV stations in all 11 Florida markets to carry the forum to viewers and voters statewide.

"It's vitally important that this election be an informed one, and that means that the voters must have the opportunity to compare the candidates side by side," said Leadership Florida President Wendy Abberger. She was joined at a press conference in Tallahassee with Broward College President David Armstrong, chairman of Leadership Florida, and Dean Ridings of the Florida Press Association, a trade group representing newspapers.

"We are the most credible debate producing team in Florida's history," Abberger said. "We want potential candidates to know that we're serious about doing this."

No commitments from candidates are in hand, but organizers pointed out that candidates have always committed to participate in the past. To be included in the debate, candidates must have at least 15 percent support, outside the margin of error, in a statewide poll by Mason Dixon  Polling & Research.

The two groups began producing statewide debates in 2004. Their last gubernatorial debate, in 2010, produced a tense face-off between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink. In 2006, third-party candidate Max Linn of St. Petersburg filed a last-minute lawsuit seeking to be included in a Charlie Crist-Jim Davis debate, but an appeals court blocked his participation.

The debate will likely be at 7 p.m. Eastern time and will be held in mid-October, with the date and location to be announced much later. For the last three cycles, the venue has been Nova Southeastern University in Davie, west of Fort Lauderdale. Past debates have been live-streamed on the debate website, www.beforeyouvote.org, and carried on tape delay on C-SPAN.

-- Steve Bousquet