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255 posts from April 2012

April 30, 2012

Sen. Chris Smith releases recommendations for Stand Your Ground reform

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, has released a list of recommendations for amending Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, after a task force he convened debated the language of the law earlier this month.

Among the unanimous recommendations:

- Cases should be presented to a Grand Jury to allow for a cross section of society to determine what a reasonable person would do in that case.
- Educate the public and law enforcement
- Create a system to track self-defense claims in Florida
- Add language requiring an “imminent” danger provision throughout the statute
- Change the “Defense of Others” wording in the law’s title to “Defense of Property”
- Allow law enforcement to detain someone who uses the Stand Your Ground defense while they investigate. 

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Florida Bar launches voter education campaign on merit retention

When Florida voters go to the polls this November to pick a president, they’ll also be asked to decide on races that will get much less fanfare: whether to retain three Florida Supreme Court justices and 15 appellate court justices in various regions of the state.

Many voters will skip the judges elections – in which they are asked to vote "yes’’ or “no” to let them stay in the job another six years, election data shows. Many more will simply guess, willing to make an uninformed choice.

The Florida Bar, the statewide professional organization for lawyers, wants to change that.

Armed with data that shows that 9 out of 10 Florida voters are unaware of what it means to have a “merit retention” election for Florida judges, the Bar on Monday launched a statewide education campaign to spread the word about the process that allows the state’s appellate level judges to stay in office.

The program, called “The Vote’s in Your Court’’ will work to educate Floridians so they can make a better informed decision about the merit retention races on the ballot.

“Democracy works best when there’s good information,’’ said Scott Hawkins, president of the Florida Bar and a West Palm Beach lawyer. “This effort is not about supporting any particular court or any particular judge…we are endorsing a system which has operated uniformly for nearly 40 years.”

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Joe Garcia readying run against David Rivera

Joe Garcia has been making call to Democrats and donors announcing he will jump in the race against Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera.

Garcia, who ran against Rivera for the then-open seat in 2010, has been mulling a run since state Rep. Luis Garcia (no relation) dropped out of the contest, prompting Democrats to try unsuccessfully to recruit former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas before settling on first-time candidate Gloria Romero Roses.

State and national Democrats appeared settled on Roses, a Southwest Ranches businesswoman. But Miami-Dade Democrats have appeared slower to warm up to a candidate they don't know who lives far outside the congressional district, which extends from Southwest Miami-Dade to Key West -- and who worked for a condo management company involved in a dispute with the Service Employees International Union. Last week, Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairman Richard Lydecker said he would be happy to see a primary in the race.

Garcia also ran unsuccessfully for the same congressional seat in 2008, against then-incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart.

Story here. Watch Garcia's video announcing his run (and featuring Homestead Mayor Steve Bateman, Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace and Robert Is Here) here.

8,000 reasons Mitt Romney might not pick Marco Rubio for veep

Sen. Marco Rubio just gave Republican Mitt Romney 8,000 reasons to not pick him as a vice presidential running mate.

Rubio’s 2010 Senate campaign was fined $8,000 by the Federal Elections Commission, according to a just-released report that said it received “prohibited, excessive and other impermissible contributions totaling $210,173.09.”

By itself, the fine is a pittance for a campaign that raised about $21 million. The errors appear to be relatively small and largely clerical.

Still, it’s sloppy. It’s also a surprise. And it feeds into a broader narrative that Rubio is risky.

Romney’s campaign isn’t the type that suffers sloppiness, surprise or risk. Meantime, the New York-Washington media establishment seems eager to portray the 40-year-old Rubio as unprepared to be a heartbeat away from the White House.

“He is not ready to be on a national ticket in 2012,” former Pensacola Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough said on his Morning Joe program on MSNBC. “He’s not ready to be in the Oval Office. He’s not ready to be vice president of the United States.”

Others, including Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel and attorney general under former President George W. Bush, believe he would be a poor VP pick.

Scarborough made his comments the day before Friday’s disclosure of Rubio’s fine.

To be sure, Rubio is still beloved by tea party activists and conservative leaders, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

More here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/29/2774368/case-against-rubio-for-vp-grows.html#storylink=cpy

April 28, 2012

More sloppy paperwork: Marco Rubio fined $8k for campaign-contributor violations

When Marco Rubio served in the Florida House, he failed to disclose a generous home loan from a bank in 2006. More than a year later, Rubio double-billed taxpayers and the Republican Party of Florida for about $3,000 in flights that he later sorted out. And after he was elected to the U.S. Senate, his official online biography incorrectly said his parents fled Castro's Cuba.

Now comes the latest example of sloppy -- at best -- paperwork problems from Rubio: failure to "refund, reattribute, or redesignate these contributions within the appropriate timeframes," according to the Federal Elections Commission.

Total amount: $210,173.

Total fine: $8,000.

This repeated pattern of billing and paperwork errors is the grist of political-attack campaigns. It's also the very type of suprise-a-day problems that will keep Mitt Romney's presidential campaign from asking Rubio to join the ticket. After all, top Romney advisers also worked for Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010 when he ran against Rubio -- whom they tried to frame as a "slick" rule-breaking Miami pol.

This fine, a settlement, was reached in March. Details were just made public and were reported by Politico. This is a civil infraction, not a criminal one, and resulted in part from the fact that Rubio's campaign was swamped with donations from across the nation as he rocketed to political stardom in 2010.

But, the FEC said, even after the campaign was notified of problems, more cropped up. From the FEC:

"Respondents contend that although they refunded all contributions noted in the refenal, an internal audit of the Committeefinancialrecords demonstrate that the actual amount of excessive contributions not refunded, reattributed or redesignated timely was $61, 958. Respondents acknowledge that an additional $22,400 in contributions clearly stated on the check or transmittal device that the funds were a joint contribution, but the Committee failed to send the letter requesting written verification of the joint contribution pursuant to 11 C.F.R. § 110.1(k).

"Respondents acknowledge some designations and/or attributions were lost during transition from one compliance vendor to another, due to the fact that some data was sent to both vendors and each assumed the other was dealing appropriately with the information. In addition to the new compliance vendor, the Committee attested that all relevant reports were amended following their internal audit and reconciliation."


April 27, 2012

Prominent lawyer, lobbyist Ron LaFace dead at 71

Tallahassee lawyer-lobbyist Ron LaFace, an affable presence in the halls of Florida's Capitol for decades, died Friday of complications from a recent stroke. He was 71.

A native of Miami, LaFace was a University of Florida law school graduate and ardent supporter of the Gators. He was a shareholder in the Greenberg Traurig law firm and a civic leader who served on the Leon County Civic Center Authority, Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, Florida Chamber and trustee of the UF law school.

"Ron was my partner of 40 years, but more importantly, he was my friend," said Fred Baggett, managing partner of Greenberg Traurig's Tallahassee office. "He leaves a void that will be impossible to fill, but he also leaves an incredible example of integrity and service for all of us to follow."

Barry Richard, a founding member of the firm's Tallahassee office, called LaFace "a highly respected member of the legal and governmental professions in Florida." LaFace assisted Richard in the firm's historic representation of George W. Bush during Bush v. Gore, the protracted legal battles that were part of the 2000 Florida presidential recount.

Before he entered lobbying, LaFace was an assistant attorney general under Democrat Earl Faircloth in the late 1960s.

LaFace's long-time clients included the Air Transport Association, Ford Motor Company and Wometco Enterprises. He was a founder of the firm Roberts, Baggett, LaFace and Richard, which merged with Greenberg Traurig in 1991 and became the firm's first office outside South Florida. Baggett on Friday recalled LaFace's work as a leader of a political coalition that worked to repeal Florida's unitary tax in the mid-1980s.

LaFace's nephew was Randy Roberts, a respected lobbyist for Publix Supermarkets, who died in 2009 at the age of 36.    

Funeral arrangements were not announced. On Friday afternoon, the front door of the Greenberg Traurig offices in downtown Tallahassee featured a black wreath and black ribbon.  

-- Steve Bousquet

Bill protecting Miami from property taxes on new Marlins ballpark garages signed by Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott signed on Friday a measure that includes language exempting Miami from having to pay property taxes on parking garages at the new Marlins ballpark in Little Havana.

Florida House Bill 7097 will ensure that the city does not have to pay $1.2 million a year in property taxes for essentially leasing the city-owned garages to the Marlins, a private entity, for home games and other events during the baseball season.

Lawmakers approved the legislation, pushed by Miami-Dade lawmakers and delegation chairman Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, on the last day of the annual session in Tallahassee.

The term-limited Lopez-Cantera is now running against Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia, who had said he might have to charge the city the taxes. Lopez-Cantera had not considered jumping in the race until the tax dispute over the garages arose.

Scott vetoes bill to let UF and FSU raise tuition rates

 After saying for months he does not believe in tuition increases, Gov. Rick Scott stuck to his word Friday and vetoed a bill that would have allowed unlimited tuition hikes at top universities.

It comes at a tense time for the state university system, with schools bracing for a state budget cut of $300 million. Even the 15 percent tuition hikes that universities are currently allowed to ask for don’t come close to filling the gap.

Had Scott signed HB 7129, universities that met 11 of 14 performance-based benchmarks would have been allowed to ask the Florida Board of Governors for unlimited hikes. The criteria included things like high GPAs of incoming freshmen and a high amount of research activity. Only the University of Florida and Florida State University would have qualified. 

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The week in PolitiFact Florida

Catch up on PolitiFact Florida rulings from this week, including today's story that analyzes Gov. Rick Scott's claim that there are 230,000 fewer unemployment compensation recipients than when he took office.

We continued working checking out statements from candidates in the US Senate race.

Up first: Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who said oil marketplace speculators have more than doubled over the past decade -- just like gas prices.

Our only Pants on Fire! of the week went to Republican Congressman Connie Mack, who said, "I have always said that I would be for drilling." Except, he hasn't. Read why.

We researched a claim from one of Mack's Republican colleagues in Congress, Florida Rep. Tom Rooney. Rooney said a Labor Department rule would "would even ban youth from operating a battery-powered screwdriver or a pressurized garden hose" on a farm. The department withdrew the rule hours after our post (quelle coincidence!).

We threw in a curve ball with our analysis of the viral Forbes column that claimed the University of Florida was cutting its computer science program while pumping up the athletic program's budget. We found the column missed a few important points.

We got local, too, checking out a claim from Pasco County Commission candidate Roy Oakley about his conservative record on a water management board.

Send us your suggestions for next week via Twitter, @PolitiFactFL, or email, florida@politifact.com.

NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer sounds off on New York Times opinion writer

The National Rifle Association's top lobbyist in Florida has squared off against a writer (and gun-owning hunter) who said in a New York Times opinion piece that the NRA cares more about unbridled gun rights than it does about actual hunting.

Lily Raff McCaulou's editorial called out the NRA for not supporting environmental issues that affect hunting and wildlife, and for paying more attention to things like assault weapons and unregulated gun use.

(Here's a link to the piece, titled "I Hunt, but the NRA Isn't For Me.") 

Marion Hammer, a former NRA president and the chief lobbyist responsible for Florida's Stand Your Ground law, is firing back. 

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