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15 posts from November 6, 2013

November 06, 2013

State draws heat for lax regulation of parimutuels

Florida's regulation of dog racing is so lax that a Sarasota greyhound track was allowed to start its racing season last week in defiance of a state rule that bans the use of unsanitary and dangerous wooden crates.

SarasotaThe fact that the Florida Division of Parimutuel Wagering spent two years adopting a rule that banned the crates, and then allowed the track to get away with thumbing its nose at the ban, is just one of several examples of the state’s weak regulatory structure, said Michael Diamond of Spectrum Gaming, a consulting company hired by Florida lawmakers to complete a report on gambling in Florida. 

 "In all our years of covering regulatory agencies, I can’t quite fathom a regulatory agency allowing this to occur,'' he told the House Select Committee on Gaming Wednesday.

The report by the New Jersey-based gaming company was commissioned by the legislature at a cost of $400,000 as a precursor to a debate next session on whether to strengthen the state’s regulatory structure and gambling in Florida.

The Division of Parimutuel Wagering said it is in the midst of an investigation into the Sarasota Kennel Club and could not comment. Diamond said it is only one in a string of recent examples in which the governor’s agency has ignored rules, failed to regulate, or allow the industry to change the rules without following the proper procedures.

According to the Spectrum report:

Continue reading "State draws heat for lax regulation of parimutuels" »

Matt Gaetz stands his ground on controversial gun law

MattgaetzTALLAHASSEE — Five hours have been set aside for Thursday's "stand your ground" hearing in the Florida House, where changes to the law, including its repeal, will be considered.

For many, it will be their first exposure to the chairman of the hearing, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, a brash 31-year-old Twitter aficionado who three months ago declared he didn't support "changing one damn comma" in the 2005 law.

Although Gaetz promises he will give equal time to the law's opponents and insists his ultra-conservative biases won't interfere, his strident, ready-to-pounce debating style rarely cedes ground.

So who is this guy?

Read story

War of words begins on eve of Stand Your Ground hearing

If you don't know what to expect at Thursday's long-anticipated Stand Your Ground hearing, don't worry.

Neither do House Democrats.

"We don't know what [Republicans] are going to do," House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, of Fort Lauderdale, said at a press conference Wednesday. "They are probably going to do not one damn thing."

The comment was an obvious reference to Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Fort Walton Beach Republican who will chair Thursday's hearing. Gaetz famously said he would not support changing "one damn comma" of the controversial self-defense law.

His panel, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, has set aside five hours to hear two Stand Your Ground bills: a proposal that would repeal the law by Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee; and a bipartisan effort to extend Stand Your Ground immunity to people who fire a warning shot.

Thurston chided Gaetz for leaving HB 33 off the agenda. The bill by Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, mirrors a bipartisan Stand Your Ground reform bill that's already found support in the Senate.

Thurston said that's the kind of effort House Democrats would back.

"There's a high probability that if legislation is passed in a bipartisan, bicameral way, I think [Gov. Rick Scott] will be inclined to do the right thing and sign it," he said.

Gaetz watched the press conference from the back of the room.

When it was over, Gaetz slipped out and held an impromptu press conference outside of the House Democratic Office.

Gaetz said Thurston's remarks were "a result of the frustration that he's unable to secure the full support of his own caucus for a repeal of Stand Your Ground."

He characterized the caucus as "divided" and said the press conference had undercut Williams' efforts to repeal the law.

"Today, you didn't hear a unified message," Gaetz said. "Think about what happened to Rep. Williams.... The day before Rep. Williams is going to present his bill to repeal Stand Your Ground, the leader of their own party stands up and says 'Well, we don't support full repeal. We just want to see some changes.'"

Gaetz said he had opted against hearing the Antone bill because Antone "is unable to explain what it is that the [Senate] language does that keeps people safe."

Gaetz called the Senate bill "an exercise in style over substance." (The proposal requires guidelines for neighborhood watch programs. Sens. Chris Smith and David Simmons are also considering language that would allow bystanders to sue if they were injured by a person standing his or her ground.)

Said Gaetz: "My job is to put bills on the agenda for the Criminal Justice Subcommittee that are worthy of a debate that is worthy of the people of Florida... I don't support the Senate bill because I don't think it does anything."

Gaetz ended his remarks with an abrupt exit.

Later, House Democratic Caucus spokesman Mark Hollis responded to his claims.

"There is no reason to believe there's any inconsistency," Hollis said. "Leader Thurston wants the House to be more like the Senate."

How desperate is GOP for Hispanics? RNC calls Miami mayor, 66, key to 'next generation' of voters


Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado was born in 1947, before color television and just after World War II.

But that didn't stop the Republican National Committee from praising Regalado's reelection victory Tuesday as important to attracting the "next generation" of Hispanic voters to the GOP.

"I look forward to working with Tomás and the RNC's Hispanic engagement team to build the next generation of Latino Republicans and to welcome new Latino voters to our party," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a congratulatory statement. (Note to RNC: In Florida, "Hispanic" is preferred to "Latino.")

The statement lauded Regalado as a fiscal conservative who cut his own pay and pension "to help the city get back on financial footing."

Republicans have lost several big-city mayorships in recent years, including Tuesday in New York, so it makes sense for the RNC to tout Regalado's landslide victory. It's also smart for the party, eager to attract minority support, to give national kudos to a Hispanic Republican.

But to say the 66-year-old Regalado is going to help the party recruit younger Hispanics to the GOP?

"I'm honored that they think I'm able to do that," Regalado said Wednesday. "If I can be some kind of role model for young voters, I'll be very happy. But I would not renounce my base -- the older Hispanics and the older African-Americans. I'm going to be their champion."

Regalado, a moderate in a nonpartisan post, said he was surprised by Priebus' statement: "I said, 'Wow! For the first time in many years, I'm relevant to the Republican Party.'"

And Republicans weren't the only ones doing the congratulating.

Regalado said he also received a call Wednesday from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who had endorsed Regalado's opponent before he dropped out of the race -- and from the White House.

It wasn't the president calling, just the director of intergovernmental affairs.

Still, Regalado said, "That's a first. I'm happy, because I think that Washington gets it now, that cities are the front line of the national campaign."

Cue the dramatic music: Charlie Crist's campaign-announcement redux

Supporters will love it; detractors will loathe it. Here's Charlie Crist's campaign announcement speech from Monday boiled down to two minutes, and stripped of all the Rick Scott bashing.

Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers becomes target of natl. business group


The Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers, known for their hunger strikes and protest tactics against Naples-area growers, has hit the big time for protestors by drawing a complaint from a national business group called Worker Center Watch.

The center just sent the following letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi:

Continue reading "Coalition of Immokalee Farmworkers becomes target of natl. business group" »

Miami-Dade voters approve $830 million bond referendum for Jackson Health System


Four months of campaign messages about the long-deferred needs of Jackson Health System and the urgency for the aging public hospital system to more effectively compete against South Florida’s private and not-for-profit hospitals paid off Tuesday.

Miami-Dade voters approved a referendum to raise their property taxes and fund $830 million in upgrades and new equipment and facilities for Jackson.

The victory at the polls helps secure Jackson’s long-term future in the face of declining reimbursements from state and federal government programs and the uncertainties of the Affordable Care Act, said Carlos Migoya, chief executive.

It also allows Jackson to complete the financial turnaround that brought the hospital system back from the brink of bankruptcy in 2011, and begin the renovations, equipment upgrades and new construction that Jackson’s leaders believe are needed to attract more insured patients to help pay for the large numbers of uninsured and indigent patients whom the hospital serves.

“Plenty of people who voted for this bond today did it without thinking they would ever need Jackson themselves,’’ Migoya said, acknowledging the broad support the referendum received. “Over the next decade, we will look back at this as the turning point.’’

More here.

Miami mayor wins reelection in landslide; commission contest heads to runoff


Voters handed Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and City Commissioner Frank Carollo second terms Tuesday in resounding fashion, but split the vote in the contentious battle to represent the city’s only predominantly black district, which will now go to a runoff in two weeks.

In what was expected to be a close contest between the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II and Miami-Dade assistant public defender Keon Hardemon, voters actually gave Hardemon about twice as many votes as Dunn in the race representing District 5, the city’s only predominantly black district.

Despite intense last-minute pitches by both sides to grab the Little Haiti vote, Hardemon failed to secure the majority vote needed to avoid a Nov. 19 runoff against Dunn. With all precincts reporting by early morning Wednesday, Dunn had squeaked past Miami-Dade Children's Trust executive Jacqui Colyer just enough to avoid a recount.

Dunn, a political veteran and the early frontrunner, had suffered a series of setbacks over questionable financial reports.

More here.

Miami waterfront plan coasts to victory

By Andres Viglucci

Miami voters on Tuesday easily approved a city-backed plan to remake a rundown piece of Coconut Grove’s picturesque public waterfront despite vigorous, even angry opposition from some residents of the historic village.

The vote clears the way for developers Grove Bay Investment Group to sign a 50-year lease with the city for the site of the Chart House and Scotty’s Landing restaurants and Grove Key Marina just north of Miami City Hall.

The agreement requires the developer to spend $18 million to refurbish the marina and replace the restaurants, which will be demolished, with three new eateries, including a Shula’s Steak House. Two historic Pan Am hangars on the property are to be restored, one for use as boat storage, the other for use as a marine-supply store.

The plan also calls for creation of a pedestrian promenade from South Bayshore Drive terminating at a new public pier over Biscayne Bay.

More here.

Recount likely in Miami Beach mayoral election


Miami Beach’s mayoral election appears to be headed to an automatic recount — by a very narrow margin.

Philip Levine needed just more than 50.5 percent of the vote to win the mayorship outright and be sure that he has avoided a runoff election, according to his election attorney. Instead, with all precincts reporting, he garnered 50.48 percent of the vote.

"This is the most humbling night of my entire life," Levine told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night.

Levine’s closest opponent — Michael Góngora, a sitting commissioner — sounded like he was conceding, although he said he wasn’t sure.

"I’m not going anywhere, people. I can’t tell you what the next step will be, but I can tell you Michael Góngora will be there," he told his supporters.

In another election day twist, Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, a popular local pol who has served the city for more than a decade, couldn’t manage an outright win against an inexperienced and little-known challenger: retired banker Joy Malakoff.

More here.