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10 posts from January 27, 2014

January 27, 2014

Medical Marijuana headed to FL ballot after Supreme's 4-3 decision


Florida voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use, after the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that a proposed constitutional amendment won’t mislead people when they go to the polls in the Nov. 4 elections.

“Voters are given fair notice as to the chief purpose and scope of the proposed amendment, which is to allow a restricted use of marijuana for certain ‘debilitating’ medical conditions,” the court said in a 4-3 ruling that split liberals and conservatives. “We therefore reject the opponents’ assertion that the amendment ‘would allow far wider marijuana use than the ballot title and summary reveal.’ ”

By knocking down a core objection to the amendment, the justices dealt a serious blow to the talking points of opponents who called the measure a type of backdoor legalization that allows for “unfettered” marijuana use for minor ailments.

Leading the opposition: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, state House Speaker Will Weatherford, state Senate President Don Gaetz and many conservative-leaning lobby groups based in Tallahassee. Gov. Rick Scott also opposes the proposed amendment.

Democratic governor candidates Charlie Crist and Nan Rich support the amendment, as does Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie.

The amendment draws strong bipartisan support from voters, according to polls, so the effect it will have on the gubernatorial race is debatable.

Numerous polls show Florida’s measure would pass if the vote were held today, with one survey showing support as high as 82 percent. The most recent Public Policy Polling survey gauged voter support at 65 percent.

If the amendment passes — for which it needs 60 percent of the vote — Florida would become the 21st state plus the District of Columbia to decriminalize marijuana for medical use. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.

Full story here

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/27/3896249/medical-marijuana-headed-to-florida.html#storylink=cpy

Ruling is here  Download Marijuana Ruling


CREW's lament: Radel's resignation might bury info on other congressional coke heads

From a press release:

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today issued the following statement regarding Rep. Trey Radel’s (R-FL) resignation from Congress. Rep. Radel is a first-term Member of Congress arrested for cocaine possession last November.

CREW filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) against Radel in November 2013, asserting his conduct reflects discreditably upon the House, and the House Ethics Committee had opened an investigation.

“Rep. Radel’s resignation is welcome, though overdue. The timing, however, is certainly suspicious. Why now? It’s not as if the Republican leadership just learned of the cocaine bust over the weekend. It seems possible his resignation is intended to stymie the ethics investigation that might have elicited damaging information about other members of Congress and congressional staff.

"As CREW asked before, who introduced the first-term lawmaker — who lived in Washington less than 10 months — to his drug dealer? Further, we know Rep. Radel shared his cocaine with others. Who, exactly? Given his short tenure in D.C., Rep. Radel most likely spent his free time with other members of Congress and Hill staff. The congressman’s resignation should in no way derail the ethics investigation stemming from this incident,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said.

In looming Republican donnybrook to replace Radel, SuperPAC wars with state GOP over ads


In a sign of a tough party donnybrook, a Republican political committee and the state GOP are feuding over rival ads tied to the congressional race to replace Rep. Trey Radel, who resigned his seat Monday amid a cocaine scandal.

At the heart of the dispute: announced candidate Paige Kreegel, backed by the Values are Vital political committee, and state Republican Senate leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, who's considering a bid for Radel's seat.

Benacquisto is spending about $500,000 in state Senate campaign money on ads. Values are Vital countered with its own ads that calls her "bait-and-switch Benacquisto" for trying to boost her name ID and get around a federal ban on spending corporate money for congressional campaigns.

Last week, the Republican Party of Florida weighed in on Benacquisto's behalf and told local TV stations to pull the "patently false" ads from Values are Vital. The committee, in turn, defended the spots and attacked RPOF.

“This letter from the Republican Party of Florida is no more than an attempt to chill the First Amendment Rights of Values Are Vital to engage in protected political discourse regarding the motivations underlying Senator Benaquisto’s recent advertising campaign,”’ the committee’s attorney, Mark Herron, wrote the TV stations. **(Note: letters below)

The squabble is but the opening salvo in what’s set to be a tough and potentially vicious Republican Party intramural squabble. Gov. Rick Scott plans to call a special election now that Radel announced he's quitting in reaction to the fallout over his cocaine bust last year.

Former Congressman Connie Mack has talked to others about potentially running for the Fort Myers-based seat he used to have and former candidate Chauncey Goss hasn't ruled out a bid, either.

The consultant for Values are Vital, longtime Republican Roger “Rockie” Pennington, is a past consultant for Kreegel’s campaigns. Now that he works for the independent political committee, he isn’t supposed to coordinate with Kreegel or his congressional campaign under federal rules.

Pennington said he isn’t breaking the law and hasn’t spoken with or coordinated any campaign activities with Kreegel.

Another potential issue with the Values are Vital ads, a consultant affiliated with the committee improperly filled out a TV station disclosure sheet by saying the spot targeting Benacquisto isn’t political.

“That was a mistake,” Pennington said. “We checked the wrong box.”

Rather than back down, Pennington said, “maybe we need to step it up” and spend more money calling out Benacquisto.

The state party’s spokeswoman, Susan Hepworth, said Benacquisto isn’t an announced congressional candidate and that the Republican Party will defend its state Senate majority leader from being attacked.

"Leader Benacquisto is a respected voice and effective representative of her constituents in District 30, and we look forward to her continued service,” Hepworth said in a statement. The ad being run against the Senator is patently false and we will not tolerate that kind of misinformation to permeate."

Pennington said the state party is involving itself improperly.

“Everyone knows Benacquisto is running for Congress but she’s running ads with her state Senate campaign money – corporate money, which she can’t spend to run for congress,” Pennington said.

“When she drains that account of the last penny, she’ll then officially run for Congress,” Pennington said. “There’s the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. And she’s breaking the spirit of the law by using corporate contributions to run for Congress.”

** Download RPOF letter

** Download Values are Vital letter

Florida Keys homeowner has gun range in his yard - and it's totally legal

By Cammy Clark

BIG PINE KEY -- Near the National Key Deer Refuge in the Lower Keys, on a sleepy street called Mango Lane, retired sheriff’s deputy Huey Gordon checked the waterway behind neighbor Doug Varrieur’s home for boat traffic.

“All clear?” asked Varrieur, an author of diet cookbooks and owner of rental properties.

“Yes, sir, you are,” Gordon said.

To which Varrieur replied: “The range is hot.”

He put on earmuffs and, within a few seconds, the peace of the residential neighborhood was replaced with the burst of small-caliber gunfire. Varrieur fired seven shots that traveled 21 feet to a target that had three cans inside a box and a picture of a zombie holding a screaming woman.

“All right, one dead can,” said Varrieur, 57.

It has been a month since the friends first fired their guns in this makeshift shooting area — surrounded by a chain-link fence, a shiny RV and the canal. The shots sent shockwaves through the neighborhood.

It became even scarier once the neighbors learned that on Varrieur’s side was a state law on the books since 1987. Varrieur said most gun owners like himself had just assumed they couldn’t shoot in residential neighborhoods.

More here.

Feds' prosecution against suspended Miami Lakes mayor could prove more difficult


A once-powerful Miami-Dade politician, Manuel Maroño, fell hard last week when he was sentenced to more than three years in prison for taking bribes as the mayor of Sweetwater.

Another small-town mayor swept up in an identical FBI sting operation has no intention of going down the same way.

Instead, Michael Pizzi, the suspended mayor of Miami Lakes, says he can’t wait to fight the feds at trial in May. Pizzi, a practicing lawyer and famously outspoken politician, has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence from day one.

“I’m a community guy,” Pizzi, 51, insisted in an interview with the Miami Herald last week. “I’ve never accepted any money from anyone in exchange for doing political favors — ever.”

There is no question that the U.S. attorney’s corruption case against Pizzi will prove tougher to make than the prosecution of Maroño. The longtime Sweetwater mayor pleaded guilty so fast because he incriminated himself on FBI undercover recordings — tapes that confirmed practically every bribe that he grabbed in a government grant scheme.

More here.

Scott proposes $542 million increase to education spending

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday made a pitch to increase public school spending by $542 million.

The proposed increase falls far short of the $1.2 billlion increase Scott recommended last year, despite the best budget outlook in recent memory.

Still, Scott said his latest recommendation would be enough to push education spending a record high of $18.84 billion.

“We need to provide the tools, training and funding to give our students the best chance for success,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott’s proposal includes:

  • $8.4 million in professional development for principals and assistant principals
  • $5 million to help teachers transition to the Florida Standards, new education benchmarks based on the Common Core State Standards
  • $3.59 billion for the state university system, including $40 million for performance-based incentives
  • $2 billion for state colleges

The governor is expected to release his entire budget proposal on Wednesday.

He has already said he will seek $30 million next year for a new workforce training initiative focusing on careers related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) occupations, as well as $130 million for Everglades-related projects.

The governor also wants to reduce taxes and fees by $500 million.

Observers have paid close attention to Scott’s proposals for public school spending.

In his first year in office, Scott proposed nearly $3.3 billion in cuts to education. About $1.2 billion of those cuts were included in the final budget for 2012.

One year later, Scott recommended an injection of about $1 billion.

He recommended another $1.2 billion be added to the 2014 education budget. Lawmakers ultimately agreed to add $1 billion, including $480 million that was set aside for teacher raises.

On Monday, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart praised Scott’s latest spending plan.

“This historic commitment to our schools will only improve our state’s reputation as the national leader as the ideal location to learn, work and live,” she said.

Amid Radel resignation, Lizbeth Benacquisto heads to DC for talks, sounds ready to run for Congress


With the resignation of her congressman in a cocaine scandal, Florida's state Senate Republican leader Lizbeth Benacquisto is heading to Washington to speak with Republican political operatives and financiers this week as she considers running for the Fort Myers-based seat.

Benacquisto wouldn't discuss the specifics about whom she's meeting or whether she'll definitely run, but she issued a written statement that showed she's strongly considering a congressional bid now that Rep. Trey Radel said he's stepping down Monday.

The statement:

"Today I want to recognize and commend Trey for making the right decision. He has acknowledged that his recovery requires a focus solely on his health and the well being of his family. Trey, his wife Amy, and their precious son have been and will remain in my prayers. This announcement also makes it clear that Southwest Florida families will soon choose a new voice to represent them in Congress. I will consider the best way I can be of service to Florida and our region. This includes talking to my neighbors, my friends, and my family to seek their guidance moving forward.”

Benacquisto already started spending her state Senate campaign money on TV ads. Because a good chunk of that money is from corporate interests who are generally banned from funding congressional campaigns, strategists and her opponents view the move as an end-run around a federal candidate spending so-called "soft money."

Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel is already running for the seat, and a political committee touting his candidacy has criticized Benacquisto for running the ads.

Kreegel originally representatted Charlotte County, which isn't in Congressional District 19. A far greater share of the congressional district is already being represented by Benacquisto.

Also giving Benacquisto an edge: She's telegenic, a prodigious fundraiser, a good public speaker and she's well-liked by colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the state Capitol. Also, as a woman, Benacquisto would add a little more diversity to the overwhelmingly male-dominated House GOP.

In a political party struggling to have female faces and voices, Benacquisto is the face of the GOP's rebranding effort. The Republican State Leadership Committee in May announced her appointment as an advisory board member of their "Right Women, Right Now" program to recruit, support and elect new women candidates to state level offices across the country.


Here's Kreegel's statement: 

“I know the last several months have been trying for Trey and his family. But today, he did the right thing for the people he represents and provided all of us a chance to move forward without the distractions of the past.

The people of Southwest Florida deserve principled, conservative leadership. That’s why I announced my candidacy a few weeks ago and began my campaign to bring that type of leadership back to the 19th District of Southwest Florida.

From ObamaCare, to Washington’s out-of-control spending, to the breaches of national security, the issues facing our country are serious matters that deserve serious representation,” said Kreegel. “Southwest Florida should expect a Congressman who can lead, a Congressman without distractions, and a Congressman they can trust.

As I’ve stated before, character and integrity still matter in politics. It’s not the mistakes a person makes but how they handle those mistakes. I want to thank Trey for his service and wish him well in whatever path his future holds.”

Kreegel ran for Congress previously in 2012. His conservative legislative record and his knowledge and expertise in the health care industry, provides the voters a clear choice to represent them in Washington. “It’s time to move forward. I will focus on common-sense solutions that are based on conservative principles and conservative values.”

Rep. Amanda Murphy files Medicaid expansion bill in House


The Senate proosal to accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars to provide insurance for poor Floridians now has a House companion. Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, announced this morning that she would be filing a bill to compliment SB 710 sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

Here is the full press release from Murphy's office:

Representative Amanda Murphy, District 36, will be filing a critical Medicaid expansion bill that would provide increased benefits, using federal funds to those eligible for Medicaid, through the Healthy Kids and Healthy Florida programs. Earlier this week Senator Rene Garcia, Senate District 38, committed to filing a similar bill that resembles the Medicaid expansion bill passed out of the State Senate last year.

"Filing this bill will open the door for us to revisit taking the much needed Medicaid expansion dollars," said Representative Murphy. "It would be irresponsible to leave our tax dollars on the table while there are still too many Floridians left without access to affordable and quality healthcare."

Healthy Florida uses available federal funding to assist individuals and families with purchasing private insurance coverage by establishing an alternative benchmark plan. This initiative would operate separate from Florida’s current Medicaid program by building on the successful framework of Florida Healthy Kids.

During the 2013 session, the Senate passed a bill that would have accepted the Medicaid expansion, but the House voted to turn down the funds.

"Florida businesses are now potentially facing millions in fines for the decision made by the Legislature last year," adds Murphy. "We have the opportunity to make this right not just for those who need healthcare, but also for businesses. I look forward to working alongside my colleagues in the House to do what is right for the hard working people of Florida."

As House inquiry heats up, cocaine congressman Trey Radel to resign


In the fallout from his cocaine bust last year, Fort Myers Congressman Trey Radel submitted his resignation Monday because, he said, he couldn’t escape the “serious consequences” of his actions.

“While I have dealt with those issues on a personal level,” Radel wrote U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, “it is my belief that professionally I cannot fully and effectively serve as a United States Representative to the place I love and call home, Southwest Florida.”

Radel, who will officially leave office at 6:30 p.m., announced he was quitting just as a House inquiry into his cocaine use started to get underway.

Despite his arrest for buying more than 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover cop in Washington D.C. in October, the 37-year-old political newcomer had planned to stay in his seat and rebuffed calls for him to step down from Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican Party of Florida, GOP leaders from the counties he represents and local newspapers.

Continue reading "As House inquiry heats up, cocaine congressman Trey Radel to resign" »

What's wrong with Florida's unemployment system?


TALLAHASSEE — Thousands of Floridians await jobless benefits of up to $275 a week that they need to survive and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson calls the state's claims system "a mess."

But as bad as the $63 million online site has been for those whose claims have been delayed for weeks, and in some cases months, CONNECT is only the latest example of the barriers blocking Florida's unemployed from collecting benefits.

"The computer issue is focusing attention on the system, but it isn't the biggest problem," said Karen Woodall, executive director of the Florida Center for Fiscal Economic Policy, a Tallahassee nonprofit research group. "The problem is our system."

Read story.