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11 posts from December 14, 2012

December 14, 2012

Speaker Will Weatherford warns GOP lawmakers to cool it after rowdiness at Disney resort

House Speaker Will Weatherford has apologized for the behavior of some lawmakers at a retreat last month when several Republican members who had been drinking became unruly at a Disney World hotel.

Weatherford said he's still trying to learn what happened, but was concerned enough about reports of rowdiness that he apologized to members the next day and warned he could not condone "unruly behavior."

The outing began the Tuesday night after Thanksgiving at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the priciest hotel at the theme park with rooms that fetch up to $700 a night. Paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, it was part of a traditional retreat to salute new leaders of the House after an election.

"I believe each member has the personal responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner that honors their community and the House of Representatives," Weatherford said in a statement. "There are special considerations when dealing with matters that are part of private conduct. When I was made aware of situations that reflected upon the House, I dealt with the matters swiftly according to the verified facts."

But efforts to determine what happened and who was involved have been hampered by contradictory statements and fading memories.

Story here.

Miami-Dade advisory group: Bring back early voting Sunday before Election Day

Miami-Dade County wants more early-voting days — but how many more is up for debate.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his appointed elections supervisor, Penelope Townsley, asked the Florida secretary of state earlier this week to consider supporting restoration of 14 voting days, up from the eight days offered this year.

But a county election advisory group agreed Friday to ask state lawmakers for only one more day of early voting: the Sunday before Election Day.

“I’m not sure that you’re going to get 14 days out of the state Legislature,” Gimenez conceded.

The 13-member group was split on what length of time to recommend to county commissioners, who will vote Tuesday on their state legislative priorities for the annual session in Tallahassee next spring.

The county elections department proposed returning to the 14 early-voting days offered before Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law last year that reduced the number of days to eight. The maximum number of hours offered stayed the same on the books, though in practice early voting was extended in 2008.

Member of pioneering Miami-Dade family asks court to halt voter-approved tennis center plans

Bruce Matheson has not given up on his fight to stop the expansion and renovation of Crandon Park Tennis Center, on Key Biscayne land donated to the county by his family more than 70 years ago.

Matheson, who argued against the Nov. 6 ballot item to give the park a $50 million face-lift, has asked the Miami-Dade Circuit Court to halt any construction on the property. The complaint argues the referendum language was misleading, and that the county's Home Rule Charter was violated because the plans are only conceptual.

Matheson's family donated 975 acres to the county in 1940 under the condition the property remain a park. The family filed suit in 1986 after the county reached an agreement to build the tennis center. A settlement was reached in 1993 in which the sides agreed no stadium would be higher than 37 feet, 6 inches, that no new structures would be built, and that there would be no retail sales.

Voters chose overwhelmingly to allow new construction at the site, for which bonds issued by the county would be repaid through tournament revenues.


Florida will miss health exchange deadline, feds to step in

As expected, Florida will not be notifying the federal government today that it wants to run its own health exchange. And now that the deadline has passed, it is all but guaranteed that the federal government will run Florida's exchange, at least in the initial stages.

Gov. Rick Scott's office said he is in contact with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and it still hoping for the meeting he requested with Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss concerns about implementing the health exchanges and Medicaid expansion outlined in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Since that hasn't happened yet, the state won't give the federal government an answer on what it plans to do.

"At this time we do not have sufficient information on the cost of implementing a state health care exchange to Florida taxpayers, Florida businesses or Florida health insurance purchasers," said Jackie Schutz, the governor's spokeswoman. "We are looking forward to getting more information from HHS and the president.”

No one was really expecting Florida to announce by today's deadline that it will set up a state-based health exchange. Last week, Sen. Aaron Bean said the federal government would likely run Florida's health exchange to start it off.

As many as 36 states have opted to let the funds run their exchanges. Thursday, a federal official told a U.S. House of Representative health oversight committee that the federal government will be ready to start enrolling eligible families into exchanges in October 2013, Reuters reported.

Lawmakers discuss wise use of tax dollars for crime

Following a three-day Smart Justice Summit held in Orlando, Sen. Greg Evers, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee; Rep. Dennis Baxley, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Rob Bradley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal & Civil Justice – talked about solutions for saving money and decreasing recidivism, while still being tough on crime.

Many of the ideas came from Smart Justice, which administered a public opinion poll to find out how Floridians want public officials to spend their tax dollars when it comes to crime. Among other things, the poll found that three-quarters of Floridians believe a lawmaker can support programs to lower recidivism while still being considered “tough on crime,” according to a Smart Justice news release.

Many of the poll questions centered around whether initiatives to lower prison time for non-violent offenders would lead to a candidate being labeled by constituents as soft on crime.  

Among the poll’s findings:

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FL Dems shredding each other over party chair race. Will Taddeo-Goldstein drop out?

Fresh off the president’s big win, Florida Democrats are starting to tear each other up over who will lead the state party.

In one camp: Allison Tant, a Tallahassee fundraiser for President Obama who was urged to run by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Broward Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee Chairwoman.

On the other side: Alan Clendenin, a Hillsborough County retiree, and Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, a Miami-Dade business woman recently elected to chair the county party.

Some insiders expect Taddeo-Goldstein to drop out of the state chair race soon, but she couldn’t be reached for comment on the speculation. The backers of Taddeo-Goldstein and Clendenin deeply resent the involvement of party leaders in the race.

“This is a slap in the face,” said Victor DiMaio, a Tampa Bay consultant and backer of Clendenin. “He has run for this office for months and now higher-ups in the hierarchy are trying to shove him aside."

Continue reading "FL Dems shredding each other over party chair race. Will Taddeo-Goldstein drop out?" »

Stale jokes and fruitcake: Ron Sach's holiday card

We promise not to post every Christmas or holiday card we get this year but this one raised the bar: cameos from our highest officials, balloons for Book, bad jokes, and a fruit theme. 


Why Gaetz chose Latvala to handle ethics and elections

It wasn't his first, second, or even 10th choice for a Senate committee post.

But Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will play a pivotal role as chairman of the Ethics & Elections Committee as it focuses on two of Senate President Don Gaetz's top priorities: raising ethical standards for legislators and retooling election laws.

Gaetz and Latvala were on opposite sides during the fall campaign in key Senate races that will help decide the future leadership of the 40-member body. But Gaetz said Latvala was the best choice to tackle ethics and elections issues because of his own experience, dating to his years as a young GOP operative in the 1980s. He also said Latvala's integrity has not been questioned and that he knows how to assemble bipartisan coalitions, a necessary ingredient for passage of tough legislation.

"Jack's not a virgin," Gaetz said. "He's had all this experience, but kept his record extraordinarily clean." 

"Nobody in the Senate has had more experience in Florida elections than Jack Latvala," Gaetz went on. "He's been an operative, a consultant, a candidate, and a campaign manager for more elections than anyone. So he has a depth of understanding of the nuances of the elections process ... I also think it's important to have someone who doesn't have a problem, a skeleton, an anchor dragging behind them on ethics issues." 

As he gaveled the committee's first session to order two weeks ago, Latvala said: "We each have our reasons for probably being on this committee. Some of us asked for it and some of us probably didn't."  

All senators listed their committee preferences. Latvala's top three choices were the Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation and Economic Development, Community Affairs, and Regulated Industries. He got the first two; Gaetz placed him on a newly-created Gaming Committee, which may eclipse Regulated Industries in seeing gambling-related action next session.

-- Steve Bousquet

FL House Dem leader Perry Thurston may run for A.G.

Add another Broward politician to the list considering a statewide  bid: State House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Lauderhill confirmed today that he is considering challenging Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Thurston wouldn't reveal much except to say that other Dems have encouraged him to run and that he thinks if his party has a strong candidate running against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, that will increase the chance he will run. Thurston wouldn't reveal his favorite picks for governor.

Thurston could be a longshot against an incumbent because he isn't well-known among voters statewide and liberal Broward isn't the typical territory for churning out successful statewide candidates. Thurston has long roots in Broward -- he was born in Pompano Beach. Thurston does criminal defense and public finance work -- including as bond counsel to Broward County.

If he takes on Bondi, we'd expect Thurston to emphasize his support for ObamaCare -- something Bondi has fought. 

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, a Democrat, has said he will decide in the first quarter of 2013 if he will challenge Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Nan Rich, a former Democratic state senator from Weston, is already running.


Anger, death and robo-calls in Hialeah pit school board member and mayor against each other

Hialeah residents have been receiving pre-recorded phone messages asking that the city police be removed from the investigation into an accident that killed the daughter of a school board member — prompting strong words from the city’s mayor.

Mayor Carlos Hernández said that the so-called “robo-calls” demanding that the city police be removed from the investigation is part of a campaign to politicize the case.

“It’s an insult to Hialeah citizens and to our police,” said Hernández in an interview. “This is a tragedy that has affected the lives of many people and the attempt to use this type of tactics for political or financial reasons outrages me.”

Continue reading "Anger, death and robo-calls in Hialeah pit school board member and mayor against each other" »