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8 posts from October 4, 2012

October 04, 2012

Alex Diaz de la Portilla gets $125K from controversial donor

State House hopeful Alex Diaz de la Portilla has no qualms about accepting $125,000 from a controversial donor.

The considerable contribution to Diaz de la Portilla's political committee, Citizens for Accountable Government, came from Miami Beach physician Allan Jacob.

Donations from Jacob have drawn scrutiny before.

Two years ago, Jacob gave $15,000 to a political committee run by Diaz de la Portilla's older brother, Miguel.

Days later, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, then Senate majority leader, penned a letter that helped Jacob's kidney dialysis company in its bid to keep a state contract.

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Fort Lauderdale judge rules state can continue to purge noncitizen voters from rolls

A federal judge in Fort Lauderdale ruled Thursday that Florida’s purge of potential noncitizens on the voter rolls can go on.

U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch said federal law does not prohibit the state from removing voters who were never lawfully eligible to register in the first place. Florida has identified 198 voters as potential noncitizens — among an estimated 11.4 million registered voters — and sent the names to independent county elections supervisors for their review.

A coalition of liberal-leaning voting-rights groups had asked the court to halt the purge, arguing in a hearing Monday that federal law prohibits purging the voter rolls 90 days before an election.

Attorneys for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner countered that the state could purge noncitizens at any time because they should have never been on the voter rolls.

“We’re very pleased another federal court has ruled that Florida’s efforts to remove noncitizens from the voter rolls are lawful and in the best interest of Florida voters,” Detzner said in a statement Thursday. “Ensuring ineligible voters can’t cast a ballot is a fundamental aspect of conducting fair elections.”

Zloch’s ruling follows one issued by a Tallahassee federal judge in June in a separate case filed by the U.S. Justice Department. That judge also opined that the 90-day purge prohibition in the 1993 National Voter Registration Act applies to people lawfully registered to vote, such as felons, and is silent as to noncitizens.

Zloch reached a similar conclusion. More here.

FDLE launches criminal probe of suspicious inmate death

The Florida Department of Corrections is ordering leadership changes at one of its biggest prisons and has ordered a criminal investigation following the suspicious and still-unexplained death of an inmate last month at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.

The prison system also said "there may be more investigations opened," suggesting there may be one or more additional cases involving questionable inmate deaths. 

The agency, which is under the direction of Gov. Rick Scott, issued a statement Thursday confirming the probe by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the prison system's office of inspector general, in response to questions by the Times/Herald. The prison system at first declined to comment on the case, citing federal privacy laws concerning inmates' medical condition. 

"One question is whether this was an excessive use of force," the prison system's statement said. "There's not much more that we can say at this time because of the investigation."

The state has not identified the dead inmate. The Times/Herald has learned that he was Frank Smith, 44, who had served most of a 16-year sentence for carjacking and assault convictions in Miami-Dade County. Smith, described as 5-feet-8 and weighing 129 pounds, is listed as "DECEASED" on the state prison system's web site.

The Alachua County Medical Examiner in Gainesville confirmed that Smith died on Sept. 4, but the office declined further comment. 

The prison system is also transferring Union C.I.'s warden, Barry Reddish, to another prison. The new warden at Union, Diane Andrews, starts work on Friday. Andrews, a 30-year employee of the prison system, has been the warden at Madison Correctional near Tallahassee. 

"We take the safety of inmates very seriously, which is why we have asked FDLE to take over this case," the Corrections Department's statement said. "The DOC administration has instructed all DOC personnel to fully comply with this investigation."

Smith is the second inmate to die in state custody this year under circumstances the state has declined to explain. Inmate Darren Rainey died at Dade Correctional Institution in Miami several months ago.

-- Steve Bousquet


Hasner says he raised $475,000

Congressional candidate Adam Hasner (R-Boca Raton) said he raised about $475,000 between July 26 and Sept. 30. That fundraising total is based on his press release -- not the actual Federal Election Commission report.

When we get a figure from his opponent, Lois Frankel (D-West Palm Beach), we will provide an update.

The contest between Frankel, a former West Palm Beach mayor and state legislator and Hasner, a former House majority leader, is one of the most expensive Congressional contests in Florida. Hasner had raised about $2.4 million and Frankel had raised about $2.3 million through July 25.

They are competing in the Broward/Palm Beach Congressional District 22. This is U.S. Rep. Allen West's current district but due to redistricting he has moved to safer Republican territory to the north. West raised about $6.5 million in 2010 to oust U.S. Rep. Ron Klein.

Citizens' controversial $350M loan program picks up endorsements

Two state lawmakers and three insurance industry representatives voiced their support Thursday for Citizens Property Insurance’s controversial plan to loan out $350 million to the private sector.

The group—which included Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, Rep. Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, and former House speaker Tom Feeney—said Citizens should act “with all due haste” to approve the so-called surplus loan program.

“Citizens, as John pointed out, is a ticking time bomb,” said Feeney, who now leads the business group Associated Industries of Florida and was House speaker when Citizens was created in 2002. Feeney, a major player during the creation of the state-run insurer, now calls it “the worst run casualty and risk market that I am aware of anywhere in the free world.”

Under the new “surplus loan” program, Citizens would take capital from its record $6.2 billion reserves and lend it — under favorable terms — to private insurers who agree to take over policies and keep them for 10 years.

The program could help reduce the size of Citizens by 300,000 policies, which could reduce the amount of assessment Floridians have to pay after a once-in-a-century type hurricane. Gov. Rick Scott has championed the effort to shrink Citizens and reduce its risk, sparking controversial and unpopular coverage changes for policyholders. Business-friendly groups support the $350 million program

Other lawmakers and consumer advocates have blasted Citizens for rushing the program through in order to avoid a thorough vetting in the Legislature and the public. Last month, the board unveiled and approved the plan over the course of two days, with little public input. The plan is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks.

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FL Hispanic poll: Obama 61-Romney 31. About half know an illegal immigrant

Hispanic voters in Florida heavily favor President Obama, strongly back his immigration positions and are highly enthusiastic about voting, according to a new poll.

Also, about half of all the voters know someone who is illegally in the country, according to the survey of 400 registered Florida Hispanics conducted for America’s Voice, a group that advocates for liberal immigration policies.

Obama pulls 61 percent Hispanic support compared to 31 percent for Republican Mitt Romney, the poll showed.

The Hispanic support measured in the poll mirrors other Florida surveys that show Obama with a large lead among this crucial and growing segment of the Florida electorate, who comprises about 14 percent of the active voter rolls. Still, this 30-point margin is the largest Obama lead to date.

Unlike other surveys The America’s Voice poll delves more deeply into the issue of immigration with Hispanics and shows how it appears to play in Obama’s favor.

“Latinos are more engaged in this issue of immigration regardless of where you live in the country,” said University of Miami political science professor Casey Klofstad, who studies the nuances of Florida’s Hispanic vote.

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Under fire: Florida Supreme Court hears line-up of controversy today

Under fire from the right for its previous decisions involving the Republican-led state Legislature, the Florida Supreme Court today hears oral arguments today on cases relating to the death penalty, energy costs and university tuition issues that, depending on the ruling, will disappoint someone.

Three of the seven justices have been targeted by the Republican Party of Florida and conservative groups for defeat in November as they face a merit retention vote. Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince are each accused by the groups for being liberal and activists judges.

The first up is the case of John Errol Ferguson, the mass murderer from Miami who is scheduled to be executed on Oct. 16 for a series of brutal slayings. Ferguson's attorneys say that his history of mental illness makes him incompetent to be executed. The state argues Ferguson is faking mental illness and the last minute claim is just another attempt for him to prolong his life.

The second case to be heard is the lawsuit brought by former Gov. Bob Graham and others challenging the power of the Legislature to set tuition and fees at state universities after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2002 creating a Board of Governors to manage and operate state universities.

The trial court ruled the amendment did not transfer the power to set tuition from the Legislature to the new Board of Governors. The First District Court of Appeal upheld that ruling. Graham is in the audience as his lawyers plan to ask the court to overturn the ruling.

The third case is brought by the Southern Alliance of Clean Energy, a non-profit alternative energy advocacy group, against the Public Service Commission for allowing Florida Florida Power and Light and Progress Energy Florida to charge customers for nuclear power plants that they are proposing to build in the future, under a 2006 law passed by the Legislature.

SACE says that the law is unconstituional, because it shifts the taxing authority of the Legislature to a non-elected body, the PSC, and accuses the PSC of shifting the criteria to allow the companies to continue charging customers even as the need for the proposed plants was diminished over time and delayed by the companies.

In a demonstration of power, two former justices have been hired by the utilities who have joined the state to oppose the lawsuit: former Justices Stephen Grimes and Raoul Cantero. They sat at the table opposite their former colleagues.

As is always the case, Justices Pariente and Quince are the most aggressive questioners of the party's lawyers with occassional questioning from Justices Charles Canady.

President Obama lacked zing in debate without zest

The presidential debate hyped as an exercise in meticulously planned zingers had little zing.

And President Obama was doubly zinger-less Wednesday night in Denver.

He was flat. He meandered more than Republican Mitt Romney.

Obama used lots of numbers. But it sounded like a calculus lesson at times. It wasn’t the 2+2=4 math that proves a point during a debate.

And there was a more important figure he missed: 47.

That’s the percentage of non income-taxpaying citizens Romney seemed to denigrate in a recently released hidden-video, which played right into the Democrats’ narrative about trying to make Romney the out-of-touch rich man.

But Obama never mentioned it.

And when the debate started, it was Romney talking about the little guy.

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