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159 posts from April 2007

April 27, 2007

Reps approve $1.25 million for Crotzer

With the wrongly incarcerated man sitting in the audience, the Florida House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pay Alan Crotzer $1.25 million for the 24 years he spent in prison.

Representatives approved the compensation bill in a 115-0 vote this afternoon. Originally, a proposal by Rep. Priscilla Taylor, D-West Palm Beach, would have provided every wrongfully incarcerated person in the state with $50,000 a year for each year spent in prison. But Taylor amended the bill to compensate Crotzer alone after her original bill and another proposal providing state money for Crotzer stalled in the Legislature.

"This is truly an opportunity to right a wrong," said Taylor with roughly 15 other House members standing at her side.

The proposal now heads to the Senate, where some Senators have said they are hesitant to approve a bill that circumvents the normal state compensation process.

Senate unanimously co-sponsors Iran, Sudan divestment

Senators applauded and hugged Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, after they voted unanimously on his bill to force the state to shed its investments in businesses that aid the governments of Sudan and Iran, which he has held up as twin evils of genocide and nuclear armament.

Several speakers recalled the Holocaust and its lesson that the only thing that allows evil to persist is for good people to do nothing.

Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-Palm Beach Gardens, said the vote was one of the most important messages of the session.

"This time you have said good people will not look the other way." Atwater said.

Sen. Tony Hill, a Jacksonville Democrat, said it continues the tradition of divestment that started when the state boycotted South Africa during the apartheid era.

"We did this for south Africa, that’s why those folks are free today," Hill said.

Elections train steams to House

The Florida Senate this morning voted 37-2 for a comprehensive elections bill, or a "train" as it is called in Tallahassee lingo. The bill contains nearly $28 million to replace touchscreen machines in 15 counties, including Miami-Dade and Broward and it also moves the date of Florida's presidential primary to Jan. 29.

But Florida senators added one more twist to the bill: Anyone who runs for federal office, whether Congress, U.S. Senate, or President, would not have to give up their current elected position. The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Charlie Justice, a St. Petersburg Democrat. Justice was opposed to a similar proposal offered a day earlier that would exempted anyone from the resign-to-run law if they wanted to run for president and vice president. Justice said it was fairer to exempt anyone who wanted to run for any federal office.

The contest begins

The House task force looking into the disputed Sarasota-area congressional seat will hold its first open meeting Wednesday morning "to discuss matters pertaining to the contested election in the 13th Congressional District of Florida."

Republican Vern Buchanan was sworn in to represent the district, but Democratic challenger Christine Jennings is contesting his 369-vote margin of victory, saying the voting machines malfunctioned and cost her the election. Nearly 18,000 ballots were cast without a vote in the congressional race. Buchanan's camp says the machines passed state inspection and were working just fine.

House votes to make homeless beatings a hate crime

The state House unanimously approved a proposal making it a hate crime to attack a homeless person simply for being homeless.

The proposal, by Rep. Priscilla Taylor, a West Palm Beach Democrat, was approved 116-0 with little discussion.

"This is a message we're sending saying it is no ok to do this crime against the homeless," Taylor said.

The state considered a similar bill last year after several attacks on the homeless received national attention. And both Broward and Miami-Dade counties have had a string of additional attacks, including one earlier this year near Fort Lauderdale where one homeless man was beaten by the same teenager twice in one day, according to the Broward Sheriff's Office.

A similar bill by Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, is stalled in that chamber.

Abortion law changes headed to Senate

A controversial proposal requiring a 24-hour wait period and a sonogram before almost all abortions is on its way to the Florida Senate.

The state House this morning voted 71-42 in favor of the provisions, after roughly two hours of contentious debate. Both proposals were added to a bill by Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, that would require judges to appoint a guardian for underage girls who want an abortion and seek to get around the state's parental-notification law.

Only women who are victims of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking would be exempt from the sonogram provision thanks to an amendment added this morning by Rep. Denise Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican.

The House decision comes eight days after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal government ban on a particular kind of late-term abortion, a decision pro-choice activists have said would encourage some states to attempt to nip away at abortion rights.

Supporters say the ultrasound and 24-hour period help women make better medical decisions.

"If you read this bill, it doesn't do anything to take a way a woman's right to choose," said Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz. "What it does is put a thoughtful deliberative process in place."

But opponents say anti-abortion advocates have hijacked the parental notification bill to add provisions designed to make an already painful decision more difficult.

"I think for us to legislate what goes on in that process for any individual is wrong," said Rep. Curtis Richardson, a Tallahassee Democrat. "It trivializes the process."

The proposal faces rough going in the Senate, where the Senate version by Sen. Ronda Storms, a Valrico Republican, only addresses the parental notification changes. And Senators from both parties have said they are opposed to expanding Storms' bill to encompass the new House provisions.

Storms rails on gambling

As Sen. Dennis Jones, a Seminole Republican, presented a bill to revise laws on slot machines and extend their allowable hours, Sen. Ronda Storms, a Valrico Republican, said she couldn't give up the opportunity to school senators on the effects of gambling.

"If nobody's going to rise in opposition to legalized gambling," Storms said, "I can't let it go."

She went on to cite statistics from the U.S. and Canada that showed casinos and gambling led to high rates of suicide and crime. When other senators responded that gambling facilities in Florida have shown no increase in crime, she said those statistics weren't available, which Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Cross Creek Republican and former sheriff, contested. She also said lawmakers are allowing children to grow up in a pro-gambling state.

Jones, in response, said her argument was "100 percent bogus."

The bill passed in a 29-9 vote.

Dr. Haridopolos is in

The doctor of the day in the Florida Senate is the wife of Sen. Mike Haridopolos. The slender blond Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos got some ribbing from senators.

Senate President Ken Pruitt, in introducing her, said that she "specializes in fixing pains in the neck" and told senators they could fill in the blank. In seriousness, she's in family practice.

Then Sen. Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican, said that with her on the floor, "I find myself feeling a little queasy." Again, fill in the blank.

Al Cardenas: Top Gun

Former Republican Party of Florida chairman-turned lobbyist Al Cardenas has once again made a Capitol Hill newspaper's list of best "hired guns."

The Hill names Cardenas, partner of the law firm of Tew Cardenas, as one of the top lobbyists in Washington. It marks the third year in a row that Cardenas made the list.

The newspaper notes that despite the Democratic turnover in November, Cardenas, "the former Florida GOP chairman is a member of Mitt Romney’s steering committee in Florida and continues to attract clients."

Cardenas, according to a press release sent out by his office, splits his time between the firm’s offices in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee. The press release notes that being included on The Hill’s list, "which is considered to be the annual 'Who’s Who' of lobbyists and Washington insiders, is particularly interesting since Cardenas is the only professional on the list who works full-time in Florida and Washington, D.C."

Dine with the president for $25,000

The Republican Party's chief fund raiser, President Bush, is expected to bring in about $1 million for the national party coffers Saturday at a reception at the Key Biscayne home of developer Edward W. Easton.

About 50 people, including Bush's pick as national Republican party general chairman, U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez and the president's brother, for mer Gov. Jeb Bush, are expected to attend the $25,000-per-person luncheon.

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