« July 14, 2014 | Main | July 16, 2014 »

9 posts from July 15, 2014

July 15, 2014

Rick Scott's question of the day: Why don't you answer questions?

 Gov. Rick Scott held a press conference in Tampa Tuesday to urge people to prepare for hurricane season. He was greeted with a series of questions from Tampa television reporters -- not about hurricanes but about minimum wage, on-duty police and why he has a reputation for not answering questions
His answer: "I answer questions.  I have the opportunity to talk to the media a lot."
Here's the transcript, courtesy of Liz Crampton of the Tampa Bay Times:

Continue reading "Rick Scott's question of the day: Why don't you answer questions?" »

Former Florida House candidate sues to get back on the ballot

Miami Beach publicist Laura Rivero Levey isn’t giving up her bid for the Florida House just yet.

The Republican was disqualified from the District 113 race earlier this month, after a check she submitted to the Department of State bounced.

Without any other opposition, incumbent Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, was automatically re-elected.

But Levey says the bank is responsible for the mishap — and the bank accepts the blame. Levey is suing Secretary of State Ken Detzner to have her candidacy reinstated.

"I hope I get back on the ballot," she told the Herald/Times. "It wouldn’t be fair to my constituents if they were not given a choice."

Read more here.

University scientists ask Scott for chance to meet to talk about climate science

Jeff ChantonIn an effort to push Gov. Rick Scott into the debate on climate change, ten prominent scientists from the state’s top universities on Tuesday asked to meet with him to explain the impact human-induced global warming will have on Florida.

"We note you have been asked several times about how, as Governor, you will handle the issue of climate change,’’ the professors wrote in the two-page letter. "You responded that you are ‘not a scientist.’ We are scientists and we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state."

Scott initially denied the impact of human-induced global warming when he first ran for office in 2010 saying he has "not been convinced that there's any man-made climate change." He has since been reluctant to engage on the issue, answering only, "I’m not a scientist,’’ when he was asked about it.

The scientists, who are the top in their fields at the universities of Miami, Florida State, Florida International and Eckerd College, believe they can explain simply why they believe the governor should care.

"Florida is one of the most vulnerable places in the country with respect to climate change, with southeastern Florida of particular concern,’’ the scientists wrote. "This is not a hypothetical. Thousands of scientists have studied the issue from a variety of angles and disciplines over many decades.

Photo: Jeff Chanton, atmospheric science professor at Florida State University hands letter to Kim McClure in Gov. Rick Scott's office

Continue reading "University scientists ask Scott for chance to meet to talk about climate science" »

Judge: Conviction must remain on record of Miami pastor who stole money


Miami Rev. Gaston Smith, the prominent Liberty City pastor who looted public grant money, is again a convicted felon.

A Miami-Dade judge on Tuesday reversed another judge's decision to grant Smith a "withhold of adjudication," which means no conviction shows on his criminal history.

Jurors in 2010 convicted Smith, of the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, of stealing county money given to a nonprofit he founded at the behest of one-time Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. Smith got probation.

Spence-Jones eventually beat a criminal case relating to the pool of county grant money.

Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch last year granted Smith the "withhold."  Prosecutors this year objected. Hirsch recused himself after the state pointed out he had earlier represented former County Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler, a witness in the case.

The new judge, Bronwyn Miller, on Tuesday praised Smith's rehabilitation efforts, but said "the adjudication must stand."

The reason: the original trial judge, Betty Butchko, had said she would consider granting the withhold if Smith completed his probation. But because an appeal was technically pending, the judge did not have the legal jurisdiction to do so, Miller ruled.

His attorney, Larry Handfield, one of two lawyers who represented him at trial, says he will appeal.


Activist: Despite recent problems, immigration policies on US-Mexican border largely a success


Despite the very real problems with children from Central America streaming across the border and clogging the nation’s immigration system, the nation’s border policies have largely been successful in recent years, according to an advocacy group.

“Despite extraordinary operational challenges and difficult politics, the Obama administration has done a very good job in managing the border,” said Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of NDN, a liberal-leaning think tank. “Tremendous progress has been made… We’re basically just getting better at managing this thing called the U.S.-Mexico border.”

In a Tuesday press briefing in Washington, echoing previous work on the topic, Rosenberg ticked off several measures that he said showed immigration enforcement has been successful under the Obama administration. Among other things:

--Crime on the U.S. side of the border is way down, although it remains a serious problem on the Mexican side. El Paso, Texas, and San Diego are two of the safest large cities in the nation.

--The flow of unauthorized immigrants has dropped substantially, in part due to decreases in people trying to cross and to more aggressive removals of those who do. Under the Obama administration, there has been no overall increase in the size of the undocumented population, he said.

--A growing share of those deported had criminal records: 59 percent in 2013, up from 36 percent a few years before.

Rosenberg said the briefing was designed in part to correct incorrect assumptions and misleading statistics being thrown around in the ongoing debate over overhauling the nation’s immigration system and dealing with the growing number of Central American children crossing the border.

Teachers union to take legal action against controversial voucher law

The statewide teachers union is taking legal action against a new law that expands the school voucher program and creates new scholarships for children with special needs.

The Florida Education Association will release details Wednesday during a 10 a.m. news conference in Tallahassee. Vice President Joanne McCall, attorney Ron Meyer and Lee County social studies teacher Tom Faasse are expected to speak.

SB 850 passed on the last day of the legislative session.

One of its more controversial provisions expands the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which provides private-school scholarships to children from low-income families. The new language increases the amount of the scholarship beginning in 2016-17 and allows children from higher-income families to receive partial scholarships.

The law also creates a new program allowing students with profound disabilities to access state dollars for tutoring, educational materials and therapeutic services. The policy was a priority for former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future.

The union opposed both policies, saying they would drain money from public schools. Several parent groups also fought the bill, along with the Florida Conference of NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Rich's mailer uses Herald editorial that blasted Crist

A political committee formed by Democratic candidate for governor Nan Rich has dropped its first mail piece, blasting Charlie Crist for his refusal to debate her.

The mailing was financed by a political committee supported by unions, trial lawyers and Tallahassee lobbyists, who donated long before Crist entered the race.

Rich's statewide mailer is a reprint of a June 23 editorial in The Miami Herald and highlights key passages in yellow: "So what is Mr. Crist afraid of? Or is it arrogance? His refusal to debate the former legislator is unseemly and exclusionary. Of course, it's politics at its worst."

The heavy cardboard stock and typeface resemble earlier pro-Rich mail pieces financed by the mystery group, Progressive Choice Florida, that refuses to disclose details on donors. There's no mystery about Rich's piece, but there's an interesting history here, because her committee is funded in part by three statewide unions that now support Crist: the Florida AFL-CIO, Florida Police Benevolent Association and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Rich created Citizens for a Progressive Florida, a committee of continuous existence, in 2011, and the committee did most of its fundraising in 2012 when she was Senate Democratic leader. Last year the CCE's cash balance of $78,000 was shifted to a political committee with the same name (as listed on the disclaimer on the anti-Crist mailer): Citizens for a Progressive Florida PC, with a post office box from Rich's hometown of Weston (her husband, David, is listed as treasurer and registered agent of the PC).

Donors to the Rich committee included the Akermann Senterfitt law firm, $20,000; Southern Wine and Spirits, $20,000; AFSCME, $10,000; and Florida Justice PAC (trial lawyers), $5,000. South Florida gaming interests contributed another $10,000 and Tallahassee lobbyists Ron Book, Bob Levy, Bernie Friedman and Gary Farmer also wrote checks to the Rich committee.


Legislature won't appeal but will redraw challenged congressional districts -- for 2016

Florida legislative leaders have ended their silence on the rejected congressional map and announced Tuesday they will not appeal the circuit court ruling but agree to redraw the map deemed unconstitutional because of two invalid districts, as long as they can wait until next year.

The voters groups, led by the League of Women Voters, contend that Florida must not run the next elections on a constitutionally-flawed map. They asked Judge Terry Lewis for an expedited hearing to decide how to make the fix and Lewis has scheduled a status conference for Thursday morning.  Download Notice Of Case Management Conference

The legislative leaders, however, whose legal challenge involved months of delay over discovery documents related to GOP political consultants, say the new map should wait. They are asking the court to clarify that the ruling does not apply this year.  Download Legislature's motion re final judgment 

Notably, the Legislature waited until after the overseas absentee ballots were sent on Saturday to announce its decision.

"Any attempt to change the districts at this late stage of the 2014 elections process would cause chaos and confusion and would threaten the rights of our deployed military voters,'' wrote Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, in a statement. 

"It has been the practice in other states and in Florida to remedy maps at a future election so as not to disrupt and disenfranchise voters. We believe such action is appropriate and is in the best interest of Florida, and particularly our deployed military servicemen and servicewomen, who are casting their votes now.”

What happens next is still unknown. The two districts directly affected are held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. Surrounding districts, especially that held by U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Seminole, are also likely to be modified slightly.

Will the court allow for another round of qualifying and therefore another round of ballots in November for the election? Will a remedy be approved in time for this year's elections, or have to wait another two years?

Here's the statement:

Continue reading "Legislature won't appeal but will redraw challenged congressional districts -- for 2016" »

Broward lawyer will head DNC voter efforts in Fla.

The Democratic National Committee's voter expansion project is headed to Florida. The DNC says it plans to build a "new permanent infrastructure for the Democratic Party and its candidates" in key states including Florida.

The DNC has hired Zach Learner, 33, a Broward County lawyer who until last month was chief of staff for Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, a candidate for the state House. Learner, a University of Miami law school graduate, worked on voter protection efforts in both of President Barack Obama's Florida campaigns and for three years (2009-12) was an aide to Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

The DNC said its goal is to create more access and more voters and protect the vote by "breaking down barriers, demystifying the process and making sure every vote counts." The DNC release claimed that Democrats support greater voter participation while Republicans have adopted a "cynical national strategy to decrease participation."

A Democratic website, iwillvote.com, features state-by-state voter registration information, but its Florida page provides timetables and other details only for the Nov. 4 general election, not the statewide primary election on Aug. 26. The site also does not highlight a significant change to Florida's voting laws that will be in place for the first time this cycle and is not yet well-known: A voter who asks that an absentee ballot be mailed to an address other than the one on file at the elections office must make the request in writing, not online or by phone as before.

That change, enacted by the Legislature in 2013, exempts active duty military personnel and could disproportionately affect college students and seasonal "snowbirds" who also live up north.

It was one of many changes to voting laws in HB 7013, approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. The bill revised Florida's voting calendar to require at least eight days of early voting and a maximum of 14 days and allows early voting at more types of buildings including "fairgrounds, civic centers, courthouses, county commission buildings, stadiums, convention centers, government owned senior centers and government owned community centers," in addition to elections offices, city halls and libraries.