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13 posts from October 29, 2013

October 29, 2013

State, Pinellas discuss possible special election dates

Gov. Rick Scott has not yet set dates for the special election in the 13th Congressional District to replace the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, but he may do so in the coming days.

That's according to Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, who has had discussions with Gary Holland, assistant director of the state Division of Elections.

Clark said that the state is looking at holding the primary election on Jan. 14, 2014 and the general election on March 11, 2014. The first date is the Tuesday preceding the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 20, and the second date is already set aside for municipal elections in 16 of the 24 cities in Pinellas County.

"It's already on the calendar as an election day," Clark said of March 11. "I thanked him (Holland) for contacting me and offering a scenario that works for us."

Nothing is official until Scott issues an executive order setting the dates. Also in the discussion stage, according to Clark, is a proposed one-day qualifying period from noon Nov. 18 to noon Nov. 19. That also is not official until the governor acts.

Both political parties are sure to mount aggressive campaigns to capture the competitive district that Young, a Republican, occupied from 1970 until his death Oct. 18. The unusual timetable will force candidates to organize and raise money quickly and try to seize voters' attention amid Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, New Year's and college football bowl games and that's no easy undertaking.

At present, the 13th Congressional District includes 455,420 registered voters. Republicans have an electoral advantage, with 170,020 voters compared to 158,317 Democrats and 127,083 in other categories.

It's also shaping up as an election to be dominated by mail or what used to be called absentee ballots. Among Florida's 67 county election supervisors, Clark is the leading proponent of voting by mail, and there are 191,000 pending requests for mail ballots, including 79,211 Republicans, 69,288 Democrats and the remainder in other categories.

-- Steve Bousquet

Miami activist asks judge to halt vote on Coconut Grove waterfront


Miami activist Grace Solares is asking a judge to remove a question from the Nov. 5 ballot that asks voters if they favor redeveloping a chunk of the Coconut Grove waterfront.

Alleging the ballot language is misleading, Solares filed an emergency motion on Tuesday asking Circuit Judge Jerald Bagley to stop the vote. The motion came a week after Solares filed a lawsuit to stop the city-backed plan that would replace the Scotty’s Landing and Chart House restaurants with three new dining spots and revamp an adjacent marina.

The plan by Grove Bay Investment Group, the sole bidder for the project, covers seven acres of public waterfront just north of Miami City Hall, and would also create a public pier and pedestrian promenades and rehabilitate two historic Pan American Airways hangars.

Solares and a group of Coconut Grove residents oppose the plan, arguing it’s too large, blocks public views of the water and was the result of a flawed selection process.

More here.

Steve Crisafulli sounds alarm on House Democratic fundraising gains

In the wake of Amanda Murphy’s surprise victory two weeks ago, just how spooked are House Republicans about losing any more seats?

Very -- from the tone of a Monday e-mail from incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island to members of the House Republican caucus.

While Crisafulli notes that Republicans are raising money at a record pace, he stressed that average fundraising is actually declining. Meanwhile, he says, Democratic members are raising more money on average.

“This is a trend that must be broken!” Crisafulli states (bold and underline are his).

True fear? Motivational tool? Or both? There's no threat that Republicans will come even close to losing their majority (they control the House 75-45). 

What's interesting is how naked the emphasis on fundraising is among House Republicans. Not only is everyone told they must raise a certain amount, but now everyone knows that Crisafulli and other House leaders are keeping score.

Continue reading "Steve Crisafulli sounds alarm on House Democratic fundraising gains" »

U.S. Senate panel takes on Stand Your Ground controversy

Statements made during a U.S. Senate hearing that Stand Your Ground laws actually benefit African Americans are “ludicrous,” Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee said after attending Tuesday’s panel in Washington, D.C.

Williams, chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, is aiming to repeal the law in Florida and will be pushing the effort during a House hearing Nov. 7th.

“The argument that a number of crimes are committed in minority communities and African Americans should appreciate that Stand Your Ground has allowed them to get off or not be prosecuted for committing murder is embarrassing,” said Williams, referring to comments made by the law's supporters during the packed U.S. Senate hearing.

Legislators, criminal justice experts, advocates and the mothers of two sons slain in the name of self-defense gave widely different interpretations of the laws, their racial ramifications and the need for changes during the panel.

Continue reading "U.S. Senate panel takes on Stand Your Ground controversy" »

Voice of dissent on Miami commission faces reelection challenge


The Miami commissioner who’s often the lone voice of dissent on the dais is now defending his seat against a candidate who thinks nobody in the commission has done enough to keep the city from becoming the Wild West.

Alex Dominguez, who sells pharmaceutical products for a living, is the only challenger running against Commissioner Frank Carollo in the Nov. 5 race for District 3.

Carollo, who has a huge advantage in contributions, says he is proud to have become “the independent voice” on the commission.

“Many would say that I am the voice of reason and that I bring a financial perspective the city needs,” said Carollo, a certified public accountant. “But you can’t be effective alone; you also need your colleagues to implement legislation.”

If reelected, Carollo, who is 42, said he will continue to focus on strengthening the city’s financial team, building the emergency reserve funds without raising taxes, and challenging city business decisions that don’t benefit residents.

Dominguez’s criticisms are levied more squarely at the city administration under Mayor Tomás Regalado than at the commissioner he aims to replace.

More here.

Gambling by the numbers: Final report does little to change conclusions

The final version of the Spectrum Gaming report is out and, while the numbers have been revised and the explanations made clearer, the conclusion remains the same: Florida's economy is so big that the expansion into casinos would have a little overall impact on the state.

The report, produced by the New Jersey-based company, analyzed 12 gaming scenarios provided by the Florida Legislature in anticipation of an attempt by lawmakers to rewrite the existing law. The Florida Senate Gaming Committee, for example, will conduct the second of four hearings on the issue, in Lakeland tomorrow afternoon.

It offers many insights for policymakers, including Gov. Rick Scott, who will be in charge of renegotiating the gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, if he choses to start the talks next year, before the portion of the company regulating table games expires in 2015.

Spectrum notes, for example, that allowing the tribe to continue to have exclusive operation of table games in Florida "could widen the revenue gap between the Seminole casinos and the pari-mutuel casinos, creating deterioration of operating performance for the pari-mutuels."

Here are some of the report's other conclusions:

Continue reading "Gambling by the numbers: Final report does little to change conclusions" »

Death Row lawyers challenge Florida's new execution drug

Tampa-based attorneys for a Florida Death Row inmate filed a legal challenge Tuesday to the use of what they call an "untested and unsuitable" new chemical used to sedate condemned prisoners at the start of a lethal injection. They say the new Florida drug, which was used in a U.S. execution for the first time two wweeks ago, could cause "unnecessary pain" during future executions and violate inmates' constitutional rights.

The new drug, midazolam hydrochloride, takes the place of pentobarbital, which prison officials say is no longer available. The new drug was used for the first time in the Oct. 15 execution of William Happ at Florida State Prison, who took longer than usual to lose consciousness, according to news reports cited in the legal arguments.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, attorneys for Death Row inmate Dane Patrick Abdool and several other inmates argue that the new drug could violate the inmates' Eighth Amendment constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment. Two federal judges are scheduled to hear arguments on the matter Nov. 6.

More broadly, the lawsuit claims, Florida's continuing reliance on a three-drug lethal injection mixture is inhumane and "violates the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society encompassed in the Eighth Amendment." The other two drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, are intended to induce paralysis and cardiac arrest.

The lawsuit was filed by Maria DeLiberato and Marie Louise Samuels-Parmer, both affiliated with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel's office for the middle region, based in Tampa. 

-- Steve Bousquet

FMA survey: Doctors support Medicaid expansion, but reducing regulations are bigger priority


The Florida Medical Association has generally steered clear of the Medicaid expansion debate. But a recent survey of doctors from across Florida revealed that a majority -- 58 percent of respondents -- supported expanding the Medicaid program to include more low-income residents. But only 3 percent of respondents said it was the most important thing FMA should focus on right now.

Although House Republicans blocked a deal earlier this year to use $51 billion in federal expansion dollars to purchase private insurance for 1 million poor Floridians, advocates promised to bring up the issue again during the 2014 session. 

"I see lots of indigent patients. … This way, we will have more patients who will have access to better care — hopefully, away from ‘emergent’ care," wrote one doctor in favor of Medicaid expansion.

One who was opposed wrote, “It will flood emergency rooms with patients demanding services for non-acute care because they will not be able to find primary care physicians who accept Medicaid because of the low reimbursement rates.”

The FMA has begun a quarterly Business of Medicine survey, the first of which was conducted in July. The third quarter results released today includes responses from 562 doctors who responded to requests to fill out the survey (they are an estimated 48,000 practicing physicians in Florida).

In July, a slightly higher percentage of respondents -- 5 percent -- said FMA should make Medicaid expansion a priority. Reducing regulations was the top response then, as it is now.

Continue reading "FMA survey: Doctors support Medicaid expansion, but reducing regulations are bigger priority" »

Maria Sachs' claim about texting while driving is Mostly False

@via rkoff and @politifactfl

On the first day of Florida’s new texting-while-driving ban, state Sen. Maria Sachs, the Senate Democratic leader pro-tem, was already announcing a proposal to make the law tougher.

The new law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, which means an officer can’t ticket a motorist only for typing or reading messages while behind the wheel. Rather, the driver has to first commit another violation, like swerving or running a red light. 

Sachs, of Delray Beach, has filed a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense, which she argues will make it easier to enforce. The penalties -- $30 for a first violation -- will remain.

At a press conference with AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson to announce her proposed changes, Sachs recited several somber statistics. We decided to fact-check this claim: "In 2011, texting surpassed alcohol as the leading contributing factor in teen driving deaths."

There’s little doubt that texting is a danger in automobile safety. A 2006 study by David Strayer and Frank Drews at the University of Utah found that people are just as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent.

The report, which looked at talking on handheld or hands-free cell phones and not texting, concluded that using a cell phone while driving "can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk."

But is it true that in 2011, texting surpassed alcohol as the leading contributing factor in teen driving deaths? Read more from PolitiFact.



Atwater wants answers on why property insurance premiums aren't dropping

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is asking for state insurance regulators to explain why property insurance companies don't seem to be passing along their cost savings to consumers.

At the heart of the issue is the drop in the cost of re-insurance, which has dropped in price after a series of legislative reforms. Atwater asked the same question to Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty in an August letter. McCarty responded in a letter, and at a recent Cabinet meeting, and said that rather than reduce the cost of premiums for consumers, insurers were purchasing more re-insurance.

Now, Atwater wants better answers and he is asking McCarty to prepare a report by Dec. 18.

"My question to you is simple: 'Why have rates not come down?',” Atwater writes. Here's his letter:  Download 10.29.2013 Letter to McCarty Regarding Property Insurance Costs (1)

Continue reading "Atwater wants answers on why property insurance premiums aren't dropping" »