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19 posts from November 8, 2012

November 08, 2012

'Worried' Miami-Dade commissioner requests early-voting overview

Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo has asked Mayor Carlos Gimenez to review the county's early-voting process, following up to six-hour waits last week at some of Miami-Dade's 20 polling places open before Election Day.

In a memo to the mayor sent Wednesday, Bovo requested an overview of the sites and ballot printing and scanning machines available "in order to discern how this situation may be remedied."

"I am especially worried about the number of sites that did not have working machines or did not have a sufficient amount of voting machines available at their precinct," Bovo wrote.

He specifically asked for numbers for his Hialeah-based district -- for early voting and Election Day, when polls in some areas of the county still had voters casting ballots after the presidential race had been called.

"There is no excuse for this and we need to prevent this from happening in the future," Bovo wrote.

Bovo made no mention of the lengthy ballot or reduced number of early-voting days -- two factors Gimenez, a Republican, has said contributed to the delays. Gimenez has asked for a precinct-by-precinct report, promised to convene a task force and said he will urge the governor and state lawmakers to extend early voting.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed a law pushed by the GOP-controlled state Legislature last year shortening the number of days to eight from 14. The number of hours stayed the same on the books, though in practice voters had more hours to cast ballots early four years ago, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist extended the hours. 

Bovo, a Republican and former state lawmaker, left the Legislature to run for the nonpartisan County Commission before the 2011 law, HB 1355, was passed.

Young Hispanics note to President Obama: You are welcome ... and how will you return the favor?

Today, immigrant advocates held a teleconference to outline their agenda for President Obama's second term. Obama promised Wednesday he would pursue immigration reform as a priority. He failed to deliver in his first term

Here is the wish list of United We Dream:

  • The design of a permanent policy that both provides citizenship and relief to 11 million undocumented people

  • Continued efforts on the state and local level to assist and advocate for DREAMers and their families, including access to driver’s licenses and the granting of in-state tuition to all state residents regardless of citizenship status. This builds on the successful passage of in-state tuition for DREAMers in Maryland at the ballot box.

  • Continued and effective implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), popularly known as “deferred action”. Currently, over 900,000 people stand to benefit from this historic program, and United We Dream’s efforts have been critical in helping over 100,000 people apply for deferred action.

United We Dream describes itself as the largest immigrant youth-led network in the nation with 47 affiliates in over 25 states that organize and advocate for access to higher education and legal status for all.

Gov. Scott to pursue more business tax cuts in 2013

Gov. Rick Scott is planning to cut business taxes further next year, announcing a new proposal Thursday to raise the exemption on corporate income taxes from $50,000 to $75,000.

 Scott spoke to the Florida Association of Realtors, and said his plan would help cut taxes on about 2,000 businesses. The total tax cut would amount to about $8 million, a fraction of the roughly $2 billion that the state collects in businesses taxes each year.

In his first year in office, Scott and the Legislature raised the exemption from $5,000 to $25,000, then followed up in 2012 by doubling the exemption to $50,000.

One of Scott’s campaign pledges was to eliminate the corporate income tax, which provides about 8 percent of the state’s annual general revenue.

“Today, I am proud to announce that in the upcoming legislative session, we will work to further eliminate the business tax for another 2,000 small businesses,” said Scott. “Everything we do must be tied to helping families get jobs, and eliminating this tax will ensure more small businesses can hire people.”

After Scott’s business tax cuts, more than half of Florida businesses pay no corporate income tax. His proposal this year is a minor step toward eliminating the entire $2 billion in corporate income taxes, a move that, if enacted too swiftly, could severely strain Florida’s budget as the state tries to emerge from the recession. 

The modest proposal for 2013 represents a stark contrast from Scott's first proposed budget in 2011, when he asked lawmakers to approve more than $400 million in business tax cuts. Lawmakers ultimately passed a drastically scaled back tax cut.

Democrats, coming off Election Day victories, immediately bashed Scott for the new proposal.

"On election night, the people of Florida sent a clear message that they have rejected Gov. Rick Scott's failed priorities and policies which have slashed funding for our public schools while giving hand outs to the corporate special interests who epitomize the broken politics of Tallahassee," said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.

See part of Scott’s lengthy press release below:

Continue reading "Gov. Scott to pursue more business tax cuts in 2013" »

Florida Current: Jobs agency director was on unemployment benefits before getting gov't gig

Florida has been one of the stingiest states in the nation when it comes to providing unemployment benefits for the unemployed. The Florida Legislature has cut back on the number of weeks of jobless aid, and made it more difficult for people to gain benefits. The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the changes made by Gov. Rick Scott, which have led to a nation-worst 16-percent "recipiency rate" for jobless benefits.

The Florida Current reports this morning that the new head of the agency that handles jobless benefits, The Department of Economic Opportunity, had a much easier time getting benefits while he was unemployed from 2009 to 2011.

Hunting Deutsch, CEO of DEO, told the Current that he received benefits for part of the time after he lost his job as a banking executive. He also cashed in on some stocks and travelled to Europe.

Here's the story from The Florida Current:

Hunting Deutsch, a bank executive with 35 years of experience, lost his job during one of the most expensive bank failures of the Great Recession. While out of work he received unemployment compensation benefits from 2009 to 2011.

He now oversees the Department of Economic Opportunity, the state agency responsible for administering what critics call the stingiest jobless benefits system in the country.

Asked if he received jobless benefits during his time out of work, Deutsch told The Florida Current, “For part of it, when I first left Bank United after we got reduced, a substantially reduced settlement. So actually it gave me an extraordinary perspective of what it takes to go through the unemployment or what we now call the reemployment process and the job certification requirements."

DEO spokeswoman Carolyn Gosselin did not respond to follow-up questions Tuesday or Wednesday asking the amount and duration of benefits Deutsch received. Emergency federal measures during the height of the recession meant Deutsch would have been eligible for a maximum 99 weeks of unemployment benefits from 2009 to 2011. Florida’s maximum weekly benefit is $275.

Read the rest here.



Absentee-ballot surge delayed Miami-Dade election results; voting delays put South Florida in harsh light

As Alfie Fernandez waited six hours to vote at the West Kendall Regional Library, she already knew TV networks had called the bitterly contested presidential race for Barack Obama. But she hung in there, anyway.

“I felt my vote was important,” said Fernandez, a homemaker. “We have a history of messing up votes.”

Fernandez finally got to vote after midnight Wednesday, but that didn’t stop South Florida from adding to its checkered Election Day history. Thousands of voters in Miami-Dade and, to a lesser extent, Broward counties endured exhausting lines, with some like Fernandez not casting ballots until after the national race had been settled.

A day later, Florida remained the only state in the union not to declare its presidential winner, and several tight local elections still hung in the balance. Miami-Dade, among four counties still counting ballots, was sorting through a last-minute surge of 54,000 absentee ballots and didn’t expect to finish the final tally until Thursday. About 10,000 had yet to be tabulated.

The fallout left Florida the final much-mocked but blank spot on the long-decided Electoral College map.

Elections supervisors and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez acknowledged a range of problems at a “handful” of sites — topped by a lengthy ballot and poorly organized precincts. But they also argued that no more than a half-dozen of the county’s 541 polling places experienced severe waits, including the Brickell Avenue area of downtown Miami, West Kendall, Country Walk, Goulds and Homestead.

Deputy supervisor of elections Christina White defended the county’s overall handling of the election, noting that 90 percent of precincts were closed by 10:45 p.m.

“We think Election Day was largely a success,’’ she said.

Still, the last vote was cast at 1:30 a.m. — after Republican challenger Mitt Romney had delivered his concession speech. Gimenez called those handful of long lines “inexcusable.’’ He said he would ask Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley for a detailed report, convene a task force to examine problems, and press Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers to extend early voting days and sites. For future presidential elections, he also wants to double or triple the number of early voting sites.

“Obviously we didn’t do something right in those precincts,’’ he said. “It’s not the way we should treat our citizens.’’

More here.

Changes in district helped lead to David Rivera's defeat

After two years of investigations and scandal, David Rivera may owe his collapse at the polls on Tuesday as much to the changing politics of his newly created congressional district as to the crippling weight of humiliating headlines.

Rivera, a Republican, lost his congressional seat in an 11-point loss to Democrat Joe Garcia, whom Rivera had beaten to win the seat in 2010. Rivera has been hounded by criminal investigations since before he took office, hobbling his once-formidable fundraising and leaving him adrift in his own party.

Rivera says he lost the race not because of the press reports of the criminal investigations — probes whose very existence he once denied — but because of an unexpected wave of support for President Barack Obama, and weaker turnout for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“I think an analysis of the results demonstrates that the presidential election had a significant impact on several congressional races, including my own,” Rivera said Wednesday. “It makes it tough for Republicans down ballot to be successful.”

Rivera also may have been undone in part by a changing climate in his own congressional district, which was redrawn by the Legislature earlier this year.

The new district, which stretches from Sweetwater through the southwestern suburbs of Miami-Dade to the Keys, is not as heavily Republican as the district that Rivera won in 2010. And a late Democratic voter registration push by the Obama campaign made the district even more difficult to hold.

Accused Hialeah ballot broker's lawyers: Miami-Dade absentee-ballot ordinance is unconstitutional

A Miami-Dade ordinance outlawing the collection of more than two absentee ballots is unconstitutional, claims a Hialeah man accused of voter fraud.

In court documents filed Wednesday, Sergio “El Tio” Robaina is asking a Miami-Dade judge to throw out two misdemeanor counts of violating the ordinance.

Prosecutors say Robaina illegally collected ballots, and filled out two against the wishes of two voters, one of them a woman with dementia. Robaina insists he was just helping elderly citizens who could not deliver their absentee ballots themselves.

In an effort to crack down on perceived election fraud,

The Miami-Dade County Commission passed the ordinance in 2011, making the possession of more than two absentees ballots a misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.

“The Miami-Dade Commission has used a sledge hammer to deal with a flea bite,” his lawyers wrote, saying the ordinance violates Robaina’s right to political expression and deprives well-meaning voters of their right to vote.

The long-expected legal move comes after an election season that prominently featured the use of absentee ballots. Miami-Dade voters in Tuesday’s presidential election cast at least 207,000 absentee ballots, a sizeable jump from 177,000 overall cast four years ago.

Elections officials also have blamed the flood of last-minute absentee ballots for long lines at polls Tuesday and delays in tabulating votes.

University leaders make case to Gov. Scott for tuition increases

SARASOTA — A college degree is an investment, and the state's public universities need to show that they are providing good returns for both their students and Florida taxpayers, Gov. Rick Scott told members of the state Board of Governors on Tuesday.

Scott also made clear that he opposes increasing tuition rates, despite concerns from some that the state university system is underfunded.

"I don't believe we ought to be raising tuition," Scott said. "I'm still concerned about the cost of higher education."

University leaders argue the state has left schools little choice. As schools are being challenged to increase student achievement, they're also being asked to absorb state budget reductions.

Florida State University president Eric Barron said the national profile of his school suffered after it was forced to cut 200 faculty positions to balance its budget in 2010. While Florida State is looking for ways to reduce costs, more tax dollars would help, he said.

"My hope is that as we begin to find efficiencies and reinvest, hopefully the state also sees a reason to give us a little bit of (general revenue) and let us hold our tuition down," Barron said.

After vetoing tuition increases earlier this year, Scott created a task force to identify ways to improve the higher education system.

Click to read more.

‘Blue’ votes may have been Broward sheriff’s undoing

“What the hell happened?”

Less than 24 hours after Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti lost his bid for reelection, he appeared Wednesday on the Big 105.9’s Paul and Young Ron Show, struggling to answer the host’s question.

Going into Tuesday, Lamberti seemed to have the pieces required for a win over challenger Scott Israel, despite being a Republican in a predominantly Democratic county: endorsements, money, high visibility and experience from having pulled off a win over the same opponent in 2008.

“I thought Lamberti was probably more vulnerable in 2008 than this cycle,” said Jim Kane, a longtime Broward pollster.

The results said otherwise, with Democrat Israel defeating Lamberti, one of the most visible Republicans in Broward, by about 45,000 votes.

Israel, 56, a longtime Fort Lauderdale officer and former North Bay Village police chief, had been working part time in private security consulting the last few years. He will take over the helm of the Broward Sheriff’s Office in January.

More from Diana Moskovitz here.