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10 posts from June 12, 2013

June 12, 2013

What President Obama said at his Miami Beach fundraiser

The White House transcript of President Obama's remarks at the home of Tom Sullivan:

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Everybody, have a seat.  Have a seat.  Well, Tom, thank you so much for that introduction and the great support that you’ve given me, and the incredible innovation that you and your company represents.

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Sequester battle over national guard intensifies: Koon calls out Nelson

In a sharply-worded letter to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the head of the Florida Division of Emergency Management calls into question his conclusion that the federal budget cuts to the Florida National Guard could be offset with the swipe of a pen by the governor.

Some background: Gov. Rick Scott suggested in a letter to Nelson that he work with the Obama administration to halt the forced furlough on the technical full-time staff of the Florida National Guard during hurricane season. Nelson responded that the governor could order the guard into action, despite the federally forced furloughs, and get full reimbursement from FEMA. 

Now Bryan Koon, head of the Florida Division of Emergency Action, pens a letter to Nelson and suggests that's wishful thinking:

"To summarize, the claim that the federal government will cover the increased costs associated with sequestration would set precedent, and most likely would not occur,'' he wrote, noting that the state only recently received full reimbursment for expenses from Hurricane Andrew -- 21 years ago.

Koon argued that the state must first deploy its national guard troops before it requests a disaster declaration and that would not be likely reimbursed. No word yet back from Nelson. 

Here's the text of the letter:  Download FDEM Letter to Senator Bill Nelson 6.11.13

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Gov. Scott signs four bills and vetoes three others

Gov. Rick Scott signed four more bills into law Wednesday and vetoed three others.

Scott vetoed a tax bill that included an amendment he opposed dealing with a dispute in Key West between a private landowner and the Monroe County property appraiser. The bill (SB 354) was aimed at saving millions of dollars for Southeast Housing, a British company, by declaring certain military property exempt from property taxes retroactive to 2007.

Monroe County slapped Southeast Housing with an $11 million bill for overdue property taxes last year after discovering that the company was renting some of its tax exempt military housing to civilians. Southeast acquired nearly 900 Key West housing units from the Navy in 2007.

Scott said the bill also could have imposed taxes on some housing on military installations that is now tax exempt. "This will hurt Florida's military installations," Scott said in a veto message.

Scott also vetoed bills that would relax the record-keeping requirements for child abuse death review panels that meet in private, as well as a bill that would have shortened from five years to three years the time frame in which a judge would have to decide whether a defendant was mentally competent to stand trial.

Scott said the bill (SB 1420), sponsored by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat, "could pose a serious public safety risk." It passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously.

Scott attached to his veto message a supportive statement from State Attorney Bill Eddins of Pensacola, president of a statewide prosecutors' association, who said Scott "did the right thing" in vetoing it.

The bills Scott signed dealt with alcoholic beverages, timeshares, insurance policies on mobile homes and changes to highway safety laws. Craft distillers can sell two bottles of products to each customer and changes to the timeshare law are designed to speed up the foreclosure process.

Scott's office got dozens of calls of opposition from motorists to the highway bill (HB 7125) because it will shift some traffic violation cases from the courts to administrative hearing officers. The bill also creates five new specialty license tags and provides a 60-day period in which a motorist ticketed for a red light camera violation can pay the fine, identify another driver who was in control or seek a hearing.

-- Steve Bousquet

Five candidates get free pass for mistakes in disclosing finances

The Florida Commission on Ethics issued separate orders Wednesday finding that five current and former state lawmakers -- including former State Senator Ronda Storms -- filed incomplete financial disclosures last year.

But because the candidates filed amended disclosure forms that investigators determined were complete, the Commission decided to take no further action.

Storms, a former Hillsborough County Commissioner who served in the state senate from 2006 to 2012, was flagged when she filed a disclosure form on her 2011 income when she ran for Hillsborough County Property Appraiser last year.

Eugene Benson, an 82-year-old Vero Beach resident, filed that complaint against Storms, alleging four violations: 18 cents she reported as income was “contrived”, that she didn’t list all the properties she owned, she didn’t specifically describe her assets, and she didn’t list secondary income derived from a landscaping business.

Investigators found only that Storms didn’t specify her assets. She affixed a value of  $10,248 to “cash checking savings” and a value of $18,840 to “prepaid college.”

Storms told investigators that she should have described the savings as deposited with Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union and the other asset as “Florida prepaid college fund.” She filed an amended disclosure, but the Commission stated that the initial omission “deprived” the public of information it was entitled to.

On Wednesday, Storms said knew about the complaint, but not about the order issued by the Commission that no further action would be taken.

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Ethics commission finds Sachs left off condo from disclosure form but drops complaint

The Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause to conclude that Sen. Maria Sachs failed to properly disclose a Tallahassee condominium on her annual financial disclosure forms for three years but, because Sachs amended her forms to correct the omission, the commission chose not to pursue any further action. 

The complaint alleging  alleging that Sachs violated state financial disclosure law by failing to include her Tallahassee condominium on her annual report for three years was filed by Palm Beach County Republican Party chairman Sid Dinerstein on Oct. 15.

Sachs, a Democrat, was embroiled in a hotly contested race against former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale at the time, which she won. They were forced to run against each other because of redistricting.

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Crist to rally Democrats in Rick Scott's hometown

Charlie Crist's next step in his effort to to connect with grass-roots Democrats will be on Saturday morning -- in Gov. Rick Scott's hometown of Naples.

Crist is the featured speaker at the monthly meeting of the Democratic Women's Club of Collier County. The club's web site describes Crist as "Very charismatic and exciting," and Crist's face is juxtaposed next to one of Scott with him saying in a cartoon-line balloon: "Why is everybody always pickin' on me?"

The former Republican governor turned Independent Senate candidate turned Democrat will then head east on Alligator Alley and attend the Florida Democrats' annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Hollywood on Saturday night.    

-- Steve Bousquet

Glitch in new law to abolish CCEs sets up a summer dead zone for fundraisers

Florida’s attempt to outlaw political slush funds has created a fundraising snafu that could inadvertently put political committees out of business for three months this summer – and potentially complicate fundraising for Miami’s mayoral race.

The new law, which took effect May 1 (HB 569), prohibits Committees of Continuous Existence from accepting contributions after July 31, allows unlimited amounts of money in the defunct CCE to be transferred to a political committee, but it doesn’t allow political committees to accept contributions of more than $500 from any contributor until Nov. 1.

It’s the law of unintended consequences and it is giving political activists heartburn.

“Most of what happens between Aug. 1 and November is going to be dead time,’’ said John French, a Tallahassee lawyer and expert on elections law. “There’s a very Zen-like nature to this bill. It’s really unfortunate.”

But what may be dead time for most elected officials is heavy duty campaign season for the Nov. 5 election for the City of Miami mayor and commission seats.

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Mysteriously financed mailer links shadow candidate to Rep. Joe Garcia camp

@MarcACaputo and @Patricia Mazzei

As rivals call on the FBI to examine a former mystery opponent of Congressman Joe Garcia, the Miami Herald has uncovered a new connection between them: Both used the same print shop for campaign mailers.

But the print shop, Image Plus Graphics, isn’t the only tie between Garcia and Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, whose 2010 campaign violated federal campaign-finance disclosure rules.

Arrojo went to school and did business with Garcia’s top advisor, who was abruptly fired May 31 as the congressman’s chief of staff amid a state investigation into alleged absentee ballot-request fraud.

Arrojo, Garcia, and Garcia’s campaign have denied working in concert two years ago, but the mailers printed by the same vendor have led to new questions about the campaigns.

“I can assure you, we printed that piece and it has our permit number,” Image Plus Graphic’s president, Cliff Warren, told the Herald when shown Arrojo’s mailer.

“But I think it was done on the qt,” Warren said.

Warren said he couldn’t recall who paid for the Arrojo mailers or how many were printed two years ago, but he quickly identified Garcia campaign mailers printed by his shop over the years.

More here

TMZ asks: Is Pam Bondi the hottest AG in America?

Attorney General Pam Bondi's criticism of the Broward County judge who sentenced Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson to 30 days in the slammer has landed her even more attention from celebrity gossip website TMZ. This time it comes in the form of one of the site's recurring, but sorta creepy "Who'd You Rather?" polls.

Bondi is pitted against California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who President Barack Obama said in April was the nation's "best-looking attorney general."

TMZ posted pictures of Bondi and Harris and asked its readers to vote, and Bondi is way ahead. Here are the unscientific results as of 2:24 p.m. (we voted once for each candidate because at TMZ it's pay-to-play): 

  • Pam Bondi: 62%
  • Kamala Harris: 38%
  • Total Votes: 43,553

In case you were wondering, Obama's comments to Harris drew criticism and he quickly apologized for the remarks that some considered sexist. At the same time, however, comparisons to Bondi and others began: see here, here and here.

Obama's bipartisan election commission to hold Miami meeting.

@MarcACaputo

The bipartisan election-reform commission established by President Obama will meet for a day in Miami -- the focal point for the state's most-recent election meltdown.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration is scheduled to meet all day Friday, June 28 at the University of Miami to take testimony and public comments from local, county and state election officials and citizens, a notice published Wednesday in the Federal Register said.

"The [commission] was established to identify best practices and make recommendations to the President on the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay," the notice said, "and to improve the experience of voters facing other obstacles in casting their ballots."

 Downtown Miami is a fitting site to discuss election problems. Some voters waited between five and eight hours to cast ballots, due partly to an unusually long ballot, a shortened early voting period and ill-prepared precincts (more background here).

But problems extended throughout Miami-Dade and into other large urban counties.

The face of the voting troubles: Desiline Victor, a North Miami woman who waited hours to vote despite her age of 102. She was featured in Obama's State of the Union Speech, though a bill to be named in her honor died in the state Legislature.

Though the president has pushed for more transparent elections and more public input, not everyone can just show up at the meeting at month's end. According to the Federal Register, citizens wishing to attend have to register by submitting their full name, organization and email address.

Those wishing to attend the meeting are encouraged to contact the commission (more information here) to ensure the meeting is held in a place that can accommodate all attendees.