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October 06, 2015

John Kasich, Rick Santorum added to Sunshine Summit lineup


Make that 10 Republican presidential candidates who have said they will attend the Florida GOP's Sunshine Summit in Orlando next month.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are the latest RSVPs confirmed by the Republican Party of Florida, which has been announcing attendees bit by bit over a couple of weeks to raise interest in the two-day conference.

After 'national embarrassment,' Florida judge is stripped of duties

From The News Service of Florida:

In a rare move, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday immediately suspended a Brevard County judge who interrupted court proceedings last year to scuffle with an assistant public defender after threatening to "beat your ass" in a video that went viral. The court also gave Judge John Murphy until Oct. 26 to show why he should not be permanently removed from the bench.

A panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees judges, recommended in May that Murphy be given a four-month suspension without pay and a $50,000 fine, but the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of punishments against judges and lawyers.

Tuesday's order is the latest example of an increasingly stern Supreme Court that is more frequently seeking stiffer penalties against errant judges. It is the first time in recent history that the justices have removed a sitting judge from the bench while an inquiry was still pending.

Murphy, elected in 2006, gave public defender Andrew Weinstock a tongue-lashing during proceedings captured on a Viera courtroom camera last June. "You know, if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off. Just sit down. I'll take care of this. I don't need your help. Sit down," Murphy admonished Weinstock.

When Weinstock persisted, Murphy issued a challenge in front of a crowded courtroom. "If you want to fight, let's go out back and I'll just beat your ass,'' Murphy told Weinstock.

After a scuffle in the hallway, a disheveled and panting Murphy returned to the bench and continued to handle cases of several of Weinstock's clients, who appeared before the judge without legal representation after the altercation.

"The dispute in Judge Murphy's courtroom and the hallway was more than inappropriate. It was aggressive and appalling," the hearing panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission found in May. Murphy's comments to Weinstock "were reprehensible," the panel wrote.

"The altercation between Weinstock and Judge Murphy created a remarkable national embarrassment for not only the judiciary of the state of Florida, but for its citizens as well," the six-member panel --- comprised of two judges, two lawyers and two lay persons --- found.

The panel recommended a 120-suspension without pay and a $50,000 fine and wanted Murphy to continue with mental health treatment "until successfully discharged."

The Judicial Qualifications Commission's counsel recommended against stripping Murphy from his post on the bench. Murphy, who took a month-long leave of absence and issued a public apology, asked the Supreme Court to uphold the commission's recommendations in a response filed in July.

The judge continued to dispute accusations about whether he actually hit Weinstock, who no longer works for the public defender's office. "…The question of whether Judge Murphy threw any punches on June 2, 2014, was and remains relevant," Murphy's lawyers wrote on July 10.

"The public narrative for almost a year had Judge Murphy initiating a fight with a punch. He understands that this behavior, regardless of punches, was egregious, but he believes that this (Supreme) Court and the public would view proof of a punch in a courtroom as unredeemable."

An investigation this year by The News Service of Florida found that the number of judges facing sanctions jumped in 2014 and that the high court is more often seeking harsher penalties than those originally proposed by the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Hillary Clinton says she'd be 'less harsh and aggressive' on deportations


Democrat Hillary Clinton said while in Miami last Friday that the Obama administration deported people in the country illegally "very aggressively" -- and she wouldn't do the same as president;

Clinton told Telemundo in an interview that aired late Monday that President Obama, her former boss, stressed deportations as part of a "strategy" to get Republican support in Congress for immigration legislation.

"I think we have to go back to being a much less harsh and aggressive enforcer," she said.

Here's her answer in full, from a Telemundo transcript.

The deportation laws were interpreted and enforced, you know, very aggressively during the last six and a half years, which I think his administration did in part to try to get Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform.

It was part of a strategy. I think that strategy is no longer workable. So therefore I think we have to go back to being a much less harsh and aggressive enforcer. We need to, of course, take care of felons and violent people. I mean, that goes without saying.

But I have met too many people in our country who were upright, productive people who maybe had some, you know, minor offense.  Like, you know, maybe they were arrested for speeding or they had some kind of, you know, one incident of drunk driving, something like that 25 years ago.

And they were hauled in and deported. And I've met their wives and their children. And I just don't believe in that. I think everybody is entitled to a second chance. And I don't wanna see families disrupted, families deported. I wanna see comprehensive immigration reform. And I'm gonna do everything I can as soon as I get into office to push on that.

But in the meantime, I'm not gonna be breaking up families. And I think that is one of the differences.  But I totally understand why the Obama administration felt as though they did what they did under the circumstances. But I think we've learned that the Republicans, at least the current crop, are just not acting in good faith.

Miami Beach candidates attack each other over Rebecca Towers senior housing facility



Miami Beach candidates are feuding over a supposed development deal that some say would displace hundreds of seniors living in the waterfront affordable-housing complex Rebecca Towers.

No such deal has materialized, but posts by political blogger Elaine de Valle were followed by campaign email blasts sent from commission candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and a press release from incumbent Mayor Philip Levine’s challenger David Wieder that accuse Levine’s political handler — also a well-known Beach lobbyist — of trying to push the South Beach redevelopment project.

More here.

Citing South Florida fraud 'crisis,' jobs agency wants police unit

Gov. Rick Scott's jobs guru, Jesse Panuccio, wants more money from the Legislature to create a law enforcement unit in his Department of Economic Opportunity to fight what he calls a "crisis" in unemployment assistance fraud in Florida. DEO's budget proposal includes $3.5 million for fraud prevention and detection including a "fraud criminal investigation unit" with three sworn officers and three investigators to start.

Testifying before a legislative panel Tuesday, Panuccio described "organized criminal enterprises" committing identity theft to steal jobless benefits intended for others, and that the problem is most severe in South Florida. Panuccio used a federal grant to create an anti-fraud initiative that he said found about 130,000 fraudulent claims in nearly a two-year period, but "the fraud keeps coming."

Republicans on the House budget subcommittee for economic development immediately voiced skepticism about the idea.

The chairman, Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, called Panuccio's idea "a pretty big deal" and "a little out of place" for DEO and asked why FDLE couldn't handle the work. Added the vice-chairman, Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale: "It's probably more appropriate for a law enforcement agency."

"It's certainly not the only model," Panuccio said after hearing the voices of skepticism. "We are open to any model so long as that model is dedicated to this issue."

State regulators: We are 'unable to say' when medical pot will be available in Florida

Marijuana samplesState regulators said Tuesday they could not say when a limited strain of marijuana will be available in Florida for medical purposes, even though it is nearly a year past the deadline on which the drug was promised. 

“At this time we are unable to provide a date the licenses will be available,’’ said Nichole Geary, general counsel for the Florida Department of Health which is in charge of licensing the five dispensaries that will cultivate and distribute the low-THC strain of medical cannabis approved by lawmakers in 2014. 

That answer drew sharp criticism from Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who along with other lawmakers supported the legalization of marijuana low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, to help patients with cancer and seizures, such as severe epilepsy.

 “I’m sure you’re aware of the frustration that members of the legislature have had in this process,’’ Steube said at a meeting of the House's Health Quality Subcommittee. “This is something we voted on two years ago.”

He noted that the agency received the applications from 28 growers on July 8 and was required to have a three-person panel review the applications and select companies that will produce and dispense the marijuana within 90 days.

“It’s been three months since then and you’re still telling us today that you have no idea when there will be some timeline,’’ he said. “I just don’t understand how we don’t have some type of way ahead.” 

Geary responded that the applications are lengthy and the agency is trying to be careful.

Continue reading "State regulators: We are 'unable to say' when medical pot will be available in Florida" »

'My ambitions are not for me,' Marco Rubio says

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio continued to grab the spotlight with an appearance on NBC's Today and one of the first questions he faced was his absence in Washington. The presidential contender is on track to miss two consecutive weeks of votes in Washington and has the worst attendance record of any current senator.

While Rubio not long ago railed on the Senate floor, "If you don't want to vote on things, don't run for the Senate," he has been telling reporters lately that voting is not the most important part of the job.

"My ambitions are not for me. My ambitions are for my country and for Florida," Rubio told Matt Lauer this morning.

The interview also touches on the race for House speaker (Rubio takes a pass) and the Oregon shooting (Rubio says new gun laws won't help).

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Study: Floridians don't want guns on campus, are split on Medicaid expansion


Floridians are pretty well split in agreement on a number of hot button issues — Medicaid expansion, Common Core and off-shore oil drilling. But as the Legislature prepares for a January legislative session and reelection campaigns not long after, they may want to think about areas of widespread agreement.

A massive statewide poll released Monday by University of South Florida researchers shows that more than seven in 10 adult Floridians want to allow police to wear body cameras, have stricter water quality regulations, continue banning concealed guns on college campuses.

It’s the first of four sets of data that will be released this month by USF and Nielsen in their annual Sunshine State Survey.

USF Professor Susan MacManus, who runs the survey, said Tuesday that elected officials and advocacy groups should pay attention to the data because it shows how Floridians’ opinions are changing over time.

“The diversity of people moving into this state is obviously moving opinions into a more liberal direction,” MacManus said. “You have to constantly be looking at changes in opinions.”

One of the biggest changes in opinions: Less and less, people consider the economy and jobs to be the most important issue in Florida. Just 22 percent of respondents said so this year, compared to 30 percent last year and 52 percent in 2011.

A number of issues in the portion of the survey released this week are likely to come up during the legislative session, which begins in January. Early committee hearings have already begun.

On that list of hot topics is allowing concealed handguns on college campuses, where they are currently banned. According to the survey, 73 percent of Floridians oppose allowing guns on campuses, compared to just 17 percent who are in favor. Another gun-rights issue (the Stand Your Ground Law) is more divisive, with 30 percent wanting to repeal the law and 41 percent wanting it on the books.

Nine in 10 Floridians support police body cameras. Last spring, legislation to require them was watered down and then did not pass the Legislature.

Sixty percent of Floridians want more school vouchers. Two-thirds want stricter environmental regulations. Seventy-two percent want stricter water quality regulations.

Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee

Gaetz open carry


Gun owners in Florida with concealed-carry permits are one step closer to getting the right to openly carry those weapons in public, under legislation that cleared a House subcommittee today by a 8-4 vote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who introduced HB 163, said it “restores and vindicates” Second Amendment rights and promotes public safety. But critics of the proposal said it should, at a minimum, include better training requirements and also better protect property owner’s rights if they don't want weapons in their homes or businesses.

Those who are in total opposition said an open-carry law in Florida would instill fear, rather than calm.

“When I am out at Starbucks and there’s a cop there with his gun, it’s intimidating and it’s scary,” said Shawn Bartelt, a retiree and mother of two teenagers from Orlando. “I do not want to walk around when I walk my dogs and know that somebody’s carrying a gun out there. … I don’t want my kids raised in a world where we’re being less civilized.”

Gaetz argued that fighting for gun-owners’ rights has the opposite effect, and he said federal crime statistics are on his side.

“While we will certainly hear from shrill voices on the left that open carry will lead to the wild, wild west, that is not borne out by any of the data we have,” Gaetz said. He said U.S. Department of Justice statistics actually show a decrease in violent crime in states with open-carry laws.

Florida is one of only five states and the District of Columbia, which prohibit openly carrying firearms and other restricted weapons.

Continue reading "Open-carry bill passes Florida House subcommittee" »

Ben Carson's false claim about Margaret Sanger and African-Americans

Despite being dead for 49 years, Margaret Sanger, founder of the organization that became Planned Parenthood, has a way of turning up in the news. Her latest appearance came during  remarks by Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson at a retirement center in Exeter, N.H.

Answering a question at RiverWoods Retirement Community, Carson said that "Planned Parenthood, as you know, was founded by Margaret Sanger. . . . Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist. She believed that people like me should be eliminated, or kept under control."

At a press conference later, the West Palm Beach resident specified what he meant by "people like me."  He said he was "talking about the black race."

See what PolitiFact New Hampshire found about Carson's claim and here is his Truth-O-Meter record

Federal audit: Florida not helping homeowners enough with mortgages

via @NickNehamas

A long-criticized billion dollar program meant to keep homeowners from losing their homes is still being mismanaged in Florida, according to a federal audit that will be released Tuesday.

The Hardest Hit Fund was established by Congress in 2010 to provide mortgage relief and other assistance to struggling homeowners as part of a wider effort to bail out the nation’s economy. The program is jointly managed in Florida by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, a state agency.

Florida was one of the states hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. It has received more than $1 billion of the $7.6 billion disbursed nationwide. But Florida’s performance has lagged well behind other states because of a lack of federal oversight, according to an audit performed by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which serves as a watchdog for the bailout.

The audit found that Florida accepted only 20 percent of homeowners who applied for assistance, the lowest rate among the 18 states that received funding. (The District of Columbia is also part of the program). The national acceptance rate was 48 percent.

More here.

From Benghazi to attacks on Jeb Bush, PolitiFact checks in on Hillary Clinton's Truth-O-Meter record


Hillary Clinton took questions Monday in a town hall sponsored by the Today show, a continuing sign of Clinton’s shift toward more high-profile campaign appearances.

PolitiFact has been watching Clinton closely, however, since her first run for president in 2007. Overall, we’ve fact-checked 125 claims made by the former New York senator and secretary of state.

Here’s a look at some recent Clinton claims we’ve analyzed and here are our fact-checks of Clinton attacking former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

October 05, 2015

Marco Rubio on Jeb Bush: 'The world has changed a lot in 15 years'


Marco Rubio suggested in an interview aired Monday that his one-time mentor turned presidential rival Jeb Bush has been out of office too long to be the best 2016 Republican contender.

"The world has changed a lot in 15 years," Rubio told Fox News' John Roberts. Bush was last elected 13 years ago, in 2002, and left office in eight years ago, in early 2007.

"The issues we confronted in Florida 15 years ago are nothing like the issues the country's confronting now," Rubio continued. "I'm very confident that over the last few years -- in the time that I've been involved in all of this -- no one has shown better judgment, or more leadership on the issues facing our country, than I have."

Rubio was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives 15 years ago, in 2000, when he was 29. Bush said last week that Rubio "followed" the former governor's leadership in Tallahassee.


CNN: Donald Trump pranks sweaty Marco Rubio with water

From CNN:

Donald Trump is escalating his attacks on Sen. Marco Rubio with a special delivery for his rival: "Trump Ice Natural Spring Water."

Trump has previously trained his fire on Rubio, claiming he has the worst voting attendance record in the U.S. Senate and that he sweats a lot. But CNN learned that the Trump campaign sent a "care package" to Rubio's Washington campaign office that contained a 24-bottle case of "Trump Ice Natural Spring Water," with Trump's face on it, two "Make America Great Again" towels and bumper stickers and a note reading, "Since you're always sweating, we thought you could use some water. Enjoy!"

A Trump campaign aide said they added the towels "for him sweating," and described the overall gesture as a lighthearted prank.

More here.

Florida 'working on' fixing delays in paying unemployment benefits


Florida has seen the number of people seeking unemployment assistance cut in half since 2012, yet the state is worse at paying claims within a two week window that the federal government grades the state on, a key Florida Senate committee heard Monday.

In 2012, Florida paid 80 percent of new claims within 14 days. But now, Florida is paying those claims within that time frame 70 percent of the time, the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity’s executive director Jesse Panuccio told the Commerce Committee in the Florida Senate.

“We are working on that,” Panuccio told the committee. “We are working on ways we can increase that. We have policies and plans in place to get that number higher.”

Senators grilled Panuccio on whether the worsening numbers are due to the state’s new online filing system for unemployment, which started in 2013. When the $77 million CONNECT system launched, glitches resulted in applicants faced long delays in collecting benefits.

But Panuccio insisted on Monday that the system has “stabilized” and they are processing thousands of claims every week and disqualifying people who don’t qualify accurately.

Continue reading "Florida 'working on' fixing delays in paying unemployment benefits" »

Jones: ‘No performance issues’ with corrections’ I.G. who resigned

Julie jones


Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told a Senate committee Monday that the re-assignment of her agency’s inspector general was of his own choosing, not because of performance issues.

Jeffery Beasley announced last week that he is stepping down to head up the department’s intelligence division. Beasley’s job change comes as the corrections department has been plagued for more than a year by widespread criticism and allegations that Beasley and his office failed to investigate or may have even hindered investigations into suspicious deaths, beatings and medical neglect of inmates in the state prison system.

While giving an update to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday afternoon, Jones spoke about ways she's trying to improve the environment within the agency by focusing on values, such as supervisory accountability. Senators had one question about Beasley's job change -- specifically, how Jones' vision jibes with Beasley's re-assignment.

“I’m trying to understand how someone goes from being an I.G. that perhaps they didn’t perform well or something, and then they get integrated in the system,” said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, vice-chairwoman of the committee. “What kind of signal does that send?”

Jones said there were “no performance issues” with Beasley.

“He did four years’ worth of good duty and has elected to step away from his position and do something different,” she said.

Beasley, 41, similarly told the Miami Herald last week that he elected voluntarily to move into the new role.

“This is a phenomenal move and opportunity," Beasley told the Herald. “This is not the secretary running me out of the position. This is not the governor forcing me out of the office."

Beasley is expected to continue as inspector general for a few more weeks. The intelligence division, which Beasley will now oversee, is tasked with probing inmate-generated crime, including identity theft and drug and tobacco trafficking.

Jones told reporters she will have no role in recommending Beasley's successor.

"That is not my responsibility," she said, adding that Melinda Miguel -- Gov. Rick Scott’s appointed chief inspector general -- will advertise the position and put together an interview board, which will make recommendations to Miguel and Jones.

 Photo credit: The Florida Channel

If Jeb Bush were to dock Marco Rubio's pay for Senate absences

GOP 2016 Rubio(2) (1)


Jeb Bush has said for months that members of Congress should get their pay dock for missing work. He hasn't mentioned him by name, but rival Marco Rubio has the highest absentee record in the U.S. Senate.

"Why is it that people miss votes in the United States Congress in such a rampant way?" Bush asked in a New Hampshire town hall last week. He first proposed the pay-docking idea in Tallahassee in July.

So how much would Rubio have lost so far this year under Bush's proposal?

Here's a back-of-the-envelope calculation:

According to GovTrack, Rubio missed 81 of 272 eligible Senate votes through Oct. 1, or nearly 30 percent. Multiply that by $130,500 -- Rubio's Senate salary -- and the Florida Republican would get docked $38,862.13. 

A Bush supporter running for Rubio's Senate seat, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, poked Rubio on Monday over his vote record.

Rubio has dismissed criticism over his absences by saying he has been frustrated by the Senate's dysfunction and thinks he could better employ his political skills in the White House. He told CNBC on Monday, according to a CNN transcription, that "being a senator is more than just casting a vote," referring to his office's work for constituents.

"If there is a vote where my vote is going to make a difference or an issue of major national significance and importance, we'd do everything possible to be there. But I am going to miss votes -- I'm running for president," he conceded.

"When I miss a vote, it's not because I'm out playing golf. We're out campaigning for the future of America where I believe I can make more of a difference as president than I could as a senator."

Photo credit: Jessica Reilly/Telegraph Herald via AP

Heavy hitters introduce Carlos Lopez-Cantera in Washington

10052015_140541_clc_meet_and_greet__8colvia @learyreports

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Lopez-Cantera has some influential Washington backers hosting a meet-and-greet for him later this month.

The Oct. 21 lunch will be held at the Capitol Hill Club and is hosted by Cesar Conda, former chief of staff to Marco Rubio, and Scott Weaver, a top bundler for Rubio’s presidential campaign

Special guests include Reps. Ileana Ros-LehtinenMario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, an invite shows.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Democrats push Gov. Rick Scott to change position on Citizens veto


Homeowners hit with dramatically higher insurance premiums at the hands of new private insurance carriers would be able to return to the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., under a bill proposed by a pair of House Democrats.

But the prospects of the bill (HB 289) already look dim in the Legislature given that four months ago Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the exact same bill because he worried it would lead to more people returning to the state-run insurance company. Scott has applauded the depopulation of Citizens, a process that has shrunk the carrier from holding more than 1.5 million policies in 2012 to under 600,000 now.

Still the Democrats say they are hoping Scott reverses himself on the issue because the measure passed unanimously in both the House and Senate back in April before Scott vetoed it. State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said Scott has changed his position on other big issues over the years, and hopes this will be another one.

“We’re hoping the governor flip-flops on this issue too,” Rodriguez said.

The new bill, like the one previously vetoed, would allow a person to return to Citizens if a private carrier that agreed to take on a policy charges more than 10 percent higher premiums than originally estimated. They could also return if a private carrier increases the rate more than 10 percent per year during 36 months after the policy is first shifted out of Citizens.

But while the bill is nearly identical, it has one key missing ingredient so far: Republican support. None of the co-sponsors of the House bill that passed in April have signed up to support the bill by Rodriguez and Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg.

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, said he absolutely agrees that the governor was “mistaken” to veto the previous bill in June, but expects any new bill to come later in the legislative process after more discussion.

“I think it will come back up again,” Artiles said.

The state has been pushing to reduce the size of Citizens as more private insurance companies have returned to Florida’s market. The more policies in Citizens, the greater the financial risk for the entire state. In the event Citizens cannot cover all of its policy owners’ damage, all property owners with insurance can be subject to an assessment to cover costs.

When Scott vetoed the bill in June, he cited the burden Citizens is on all taxpayers when it is too large. He specifically objected to allowing people to return to Citizens.

“This perpetuates reliance on Citizens, which increases the potential for burdensome assessments on Florida families,” Scott said in vetoing the bill.

Some consumers have complained about how Citizens size has been reduced. Many have said notices warning them that they were going to be shifted to a private carrier were unclear and looked like junk mail. Others complain that premium estimates were far lower than what they were charged months later by private insurers once they were out of Citizens and could not return.

Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday



As the national debate over gun laws has resurfaced in the wake of last week's deadly community college shooting in Oregon, Florida continues to debate its own proposals here in Tallahassee.

Next up is a bill that would relax existing state law by allowing anyone who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon to also openly carry that firearm in public. The proposal gets its first hearing before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday morning, and it's sure to draw input from both gun-rights advocates and gun-control supporters.

HB 163 is sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. It's co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Neil Combee of Polk County, Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights.  Van Zant and Fant both sit on the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Download HB163_AsIntroduced

Gaetz's father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, introduced the Senate companion (SB 300), which has yet to be referred to a committee in that chamber.

Matt and Don Gaetz are holding a press conference at 8 a.m. Tuesday to discuss their legislation at the Capitol.

Continue reading "Bill allowing open carry of guns in Florida gets first hearing Tuesday" »