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255 posts from April 2012

April 27, 2012

Gaetz tells Senate 'elections will be held on time'

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, the Senate redistricting chairman and incoming Senate president, exalted in his redistricting victory Friday in a letter to his Senate colleagues, sent moments after the court validated the Senate's revised maps.

"Contrary to the fears or perhaps the hopes of the cynics and the critics, Florida’s citizens will now go forward to choose from among their neighbors who will represent them in the Senate and House of Representatives,'' Gaetz wrote. "Those elections will be held on time. Absentee and overseas ballots will be sent well in advance.  Early voting will occur as scheduled."

Here's his letter:

Continue reading "Gaetz tells Senate 'elections will be held on time'" »

Gov. Rick Scott will sign bill banning governments from hiring companies tied to Cuba

Gov. Rick Scott said on Friday that he intends to sign contentious legislation that would ban the state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba and Syria.

The governor will sign the bill on Tuesday in Miami, he told Spanish-language radio station WAQI-AM (710), known as Radio Mambí.

“As we all know, the record of the Castro and Assad governments are undeniably repressive,” Scott told host Ninoska Pérez Castellón. “I’m going to sign legislation that protects Florida taxpayers from unintentionally supporting dictatorships that commit such despicable acts.”

In throwing his support behind Florida House Bill 959, Scott sided with the near-unanimous majority of state lawmakers who voted for the legislation, which was authored by Miami-Dade Republicans who argued taxpayer dollars should not fund companies connected to oppressive regimes in Cuba and Syria.

Working story here.

Gov. Scott's director of appointments steps down

Chester Spellman, who held the low-profile but important and politically delicate post as Gov. Rick Scott's director of appointments, is resigning, the governor's office confirmed Friday.

Spellman, who worked for several non-profits before he entered government, will take the position of chief executive officer of Volunteer Florida next month. His last day in the governor's office is May 11.

“Chester has been an integral part of my team and has been a tremendous asset in helping me identify highly qualified individuals to serve on various boards throughout the state," Scott said in a statement released Friday. "I am pleased that Chester will continue to be a vital member of my administration in his new role."

It was Spellman's job to help screen thousands of applicants for the hundreds of boards and commissions whose members are appointees of the governor. Spellman was the person who notified hundreds of appointees who were not confirmed by the Senate that the governor's office would review their applications, and Scott decided to revoke 10 appointments out of nearly 350.

Spellman's successor as director of appointments will be Hannah Causseaux, who worked in House Speaker Dean Cannon's office handling public records requests and legislative appointments. A former Republican Party staffer who worked on House campaigns, Causseaux also is a former deputy scheduling director in the governor's office. "Hannah has a wealth of experience and will be a great addition to my office,” Scott said in a statement.

-- Steve Bousquet 

Rick Scott's choice for surgeon general has ties to USF, Jackson Memorial

John Armstrong, a University of South Florida health official and former Army trauma surgeon, will be the state's surgeon general and Department of Health secretary, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.

04.27.2012 Armstrong_DOHHe replaces Dr. Frank Farmer, who stepped down in March to help care for his wife, Peggy, who has breast cancer.

Armstrong has been chief medical officer of the USF Health Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation since 2011.  He is also an associate professor of surgery with USF's Morani College of Medicine.

A graduate of Princeton and the University of Virginia, Armstrong completed his fellowship at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. He was with the US Army Medical Corps for 17 years.

He starts May 23.

Here's the release from the governor's office:

Continue reading "Rick Scott's choice for surgeon general has ties to USF, Jackson Memorial" »

Justice Perry warns of 'divide and conquer' approach to racial gerrymandering

In a strongly worded dissent to a portion of the Florida Supreme Court's ruling today upholding the Senate's redrawn redistricting map, Justice E.C. Perry warns that the approach used by legislators to split apart an historically black community in Daytona Beach could cause permanent harm to minorities in Florida.

Perry, who was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, concurred with the bulk of the majority opinion but criticized the Senate for creating Districit 8 by dividing the black community "which is also a largely Democratic-voting communty" and "diluting the voting power and even the influence of that historically black community."

Whether the dissent was enough ammunition for the Democratic Party, the NAACP and the coalition of voters groups who opposed the to pursue a challenge in court wasn't immediately apparent on Friday.

In a statement, Democratic Party of Florida spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said: “While today’s ruling raises serious concerns, we will continue our efforts to hold this Republican-led legislature accountable to the will of the people – something they have consistently ignored throughout this process.”

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Florida to scrap burdensome requirements for $1 billion housing aid program

A $1 billion program to help struggling homeowners pay their mortgages is getting a massive overhaul, potentially opening the door for thousands of previously ineligible Floridians to receive aid.

Since last year, only about 5,500 homeowners have received aid from the Florida Hardest Hit Fund, and thousands of Floridians have been rejected or discouraged from applying due to the program’s strict eligibility rules. Florida Housing Finance Corporation, which runs the program, moved to loosen those rules Friday.

The federally-funded program offers two types of help: Monthly mortgage payment assistance to borrowers suffering from “financial hardship” such as unemployment, and lump sum aid to help borrowers catch up on overdue mortgage bills. 

The program was slated to help tens of thousands of homeowners, but so far only about 5,500 have qualified. Only $101.8 million of the $1 billion has been reserved for homeowners so far, and even less than that has actually been paid out. After reviewing the program’s first year performance, FHFC pushed for aggressive changes, including scrapping the 6-month cap on mortgage delinquency (translation: Homeowners who are more than six months behind on their mortgage can qualify).

FHFC also raised limits on how much aid homeowners could receive, doubling aid to unemployed borrowers to $24,000 and tripling mortgage “catch-up” assistance to $25,000. 

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Court upholds Hialeah's slot machines, last chance blow to competitors

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday quietly upheld a lower court ruling allowing Hialeah Racetrack to offer slot machines.

The court dismissed appeals by Calder Race Course, West Flagler Associates with owns Magic City Casino and Florida Gaming Centers, which owns Miami Jai Alai, who argued that when voters approved slot machines in Miami Dade and Broward they intended to limit the number of permits to the seven parimutuels that were currently operating.

The notice came quietly Friday on a a day otherwise focused on the court's ruling on the Legislature's redistricting maps. The ruling validates a decision by the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee last November which affirmed a lower court decision and said that the law passed by the legislature to allow Hialeah Racetrack to offer slot machines was constitutional.

It also puts an end to the years' long appeal by the racetrack's local competitors who wanted to prevent them from getting the slot machines. The state issued a slots license to the track in 2010 but owner John Brunetti has not installed them.

The appeals court said "the Legislature has broad discretion in regulating and controlling pari-mutuel wagering and gambling under its police powers." Judge  Judge Marguerite H. Davis wrote that the constitutional amendment approved by voters "provides no indication that Florida voters intended to forever prohibit the Legislature from exercising its authority to expand slot machine gaming beyond those facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties meeting the specified criteria.

Pariente urges attention be given to flaws in Florida's redistricting process

In a 17-page concurring opinion to the court decision to validate the Senate map, Justice Barbara Pariente concludes that Florida’s redistricting process, while improved because of the new Fair District amendments, still contain flaws that could result in the will of voters not being served.

“The bottom line is that while the goal of the new amendment is laudatory, it is imperative that there be further exploration of the limitations of time, process, and the language of the ―intent standard,’’ Pariente wrote.

Pariente explored that time constraints imposed by existing Constitutional provisions and concluded they are unrealistic. She said the process by which legislators draw maps with an "intent" not to favor or incumbents or political parties is inherently conflicted and the will of the voters might better be served to require that districts be “competitive” rather than to suggest that political intent be barred.

Pariente showed us again how she has become the court’s most vocal redistricting critic with her treatise on the requirement in the Fair District amendments requirement that the maps be draw with no intent to protect incumbents or political parties.

She then included this list of comparisons – between the invalidated Senate plan, the redrawn Senate plan, the coalition‘s alternative plan, and the Democratic Party’s alternative plan which show that despite Democratic voter performance and registration numbers, Republicans were given the numerical advantage in the maps. “This partisan imbalance naturally raises questions,” she wrote.

Continue reading "Pariente urges attention be given to flaws in Florida's redistricting process" »

Democrats raising money on Marco Rubio's Violence Against Women Act vote

The Senate voted 68-31 yesterday to renew the Violence Against Women Act, and as predicted, the vote is factoring into election year politics. The Florida Democratic Party is using it to raise money, by pointing out that Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted for it and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did not. 

"At least Florida has one senator who stands for women," the party wrote in its fundraising solicitation. "While Senator Bill Nelson voted yes, Senator Marco Rubio voted "NO" last night on the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, a bill that protects women and families from violent crimes, domestic abuse and rape."

Democrats are asking for $18 donations to symbolize every year the "has been helping women overcome abuse." The 18-year-old federal law created a national strategy to prevent domestic violence against women and pours resources into efforts to help victims of domestic violence.

The original act passed in 1994 with bipartisan support, but some opponents are trying to block the legislation because they fear it would broaden American Indian tribal rights and has too many protections for gay and illegal immigrant victims of violence. Conservative Republicans -- already feeling political heat this election year for being insensitive to women -- complain such provisions are unneeded.

The 31 no votes in the Senate came from Republican men. All of the Republican women in the Senate voted for the legislation. Rubio offered this explanation on his blog for his vote, saying he would vote for the legislation as written, but not as amended. 

Obama's Spanish-language ad, the Broward edition

From a press release:

PEMBROKE PINES – Obama for America today announced the release of a Spanish-language ad in Florida featuring Rodrigo Rios, an Obama for America volunteer from Broward County.  In the ad, Rios discusses the financial concerns he has with paying for his eldest daughter’s higher education and why it is one of many reasons he is getting involved with the Obama re-election campaign.

The President has strengthened early learning programs, like Head Start, of which Hispanics comprise a third of all participants.  He also spurred 46 states to raise K-12 standards with no new mandates, and doubled Pell Grant funding so 150,000 more Hispanic students can afford a college education that leads to a well-paying job.  These reforms are particularly important for the over 692,000 Hispanic students enrolled in Florida’s public elementary, middle and high schools.  But he also knows there is more work to do.  Hispanic voters have a lot at stake in this election, and the President’s commitment to a quality and affordable education for all Hispanic students is clear.

The release of this ad coincides with the launch of Hispanics for Obama, the largest ever national effort to engage Hispanic Americans in their communities and involve them in the upcoming election through voter outreach, volunteering and voting.