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14 posts from March 10, 2014

March 10, 2014

Bondi's fundraising slows, but she still expands fundraising lead

The streak continues.

Attorney General Pam Bondi raised more money in February than her three challengers -- $92,548 from her two committees and $184,000 with her own campaign for a total of $276,548.

That’s slightly less than the $325,293 Bondi raised in January and her contributions still show a heavy reliance on party money. About 25 percent of her take in February, about $69,000, came via the Republican Party of Florida.

But she’s built a warchest of about $2.3 million that her challengers will need to hustle just to approach.

For Democrats, it’s between former secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families, George Sheldon and Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale.

Continue reading "Bondi's fundraising slows, but she still expands fundraising lead" »

Group asks feds to block FPL's nuke plant from starting without repairs

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy filed a petition Monday to block a St. Lucie nuclear reactor from returning to service until the public vets unusual wear inside the plant's steam generators.

In a complaint to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Southern Alliance accused the NRC of allowing unit two of the St. Lucie nuclear complex to operate outside of its license.

The Southern Alliance argued that plant owner Florida Power & Light omitted components without formal NRC approval, contributing to premature steam generator tube wear.

"We are troubled that the NRC is allowing FPL to operate unit two essentially in an experimental state due to the significant modifications that have occurred with the steam generator replacements," said Stephen Smith, Southern Alliance's executive director.

Michael Waldron, an FPL spokesman, dismissed the group's claims as just part of an "antinuclear" agenda.

"This petition is not about the safety of St. Lucie," he said. "It's a transparent attempt by an out-of-state, antinuclear group to advance a political agenda."

Continue reading "Group asks feds to block FPL's nuke plant from starting without repairs" »

Latvala pushes to restrict absentee voting in Pinellas

A bill that takes aim at Pinellas County’s reliance on absentee mail voting and introduced online registration is moving ahead in the Florida Senate.

SPB 7068 wasn’t voted on Monday, but Sen. Jack Latvala, who chairs the ethics and elections committee made clear that when it comes back in two weeks before his committee, it’ll be a top priority.

“This is a shot that I’m firing to have more early voting locations allowed in Pinellas County,” said Latvala, R-Clearwater.

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Arcades fix could create potential problems, critics warn

Arcades like Dave & Busters and Chuck E Cheese will no longer be in violation of state law when they operate their coinless games under a bill that won unanimous support Wednesday in the Senate Gaming Committee.

The bill, PCB 668 by Sen. Kelli Stargel, is intended to fix a law passed by legislators last year that outlawed Internet Cafes but snagged family amusement centers in the process. The groups organized, pleaded with lawmakers to revise the law and urged local police not to enforce it against them. Legislators returned with bills to revise the ban.

Now, skeptics say, the remedy could cause another round of troubles for the state’s porous gambling laws.

Marc Dunbar, a gaming law expert and lobbyist for the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, told the Senate committee that the bill could allow clever operators to use holes in the law to develop technology that could bring a new round of electronic games to Florida’s strip malls, and police would be powerless to stop them.

If this bill passes in its current form, without some state regulator to enforce it, he said that illegal operators will be popping up across the state and “law enforcement are essentially playing a game of whack-a-mole.”

The bill revises the definition of an amusement game and allows them to be placed in arcades, truck stops, bowling centers, hotels and restaurants. It removes the requirement that operators have 50-games in their centers and it now allows players to use different types of currency — tokens, cards or coupons — instead of just coins to operate the games. It raises the total prize per game from 75 cents to $5.25, and allows for prizes valued at up to $50.

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Marco Rubio asks Joe Biden to use Latin America trip to condemn Venezuela violence


On the eve of Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Chile and the Dominican Republic, Florida Senator Marco Rubio sent him a letter urging him to keep unrest in Venezuela atop his agenda.

Rubio asked Biden to use the trip as an opportunity to remind other Latin American governments about their commitment to democracy in light of the repression in Venezuela. He urged the vice president to "build on" his comments published in a Chilean newspaper Sunday in which Biden called the Venezuela situation "alarming."

"And should you encounter Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, I hope you will look him in the eye and tell him that murdering and beating innocent Venezuelans will not fix his failing economy and crumbling society," Rubio wrote.

The Republican has been critical of the Obama administration for not addressing the Venezuelan turmoil more forcefully. Rubio reminded Biden that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on which his sits is considering legislation imposing sanctions on Maduro's government.

Read the full letter below.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio asks Joe Biden to use Latin America trip to condemn Venezuela violence" »

After 'deplorable' stay in Nicaragua lockup, David Rivera's gal pal kept in U.S. federal clink


Ana Alliegro, busted in Nicaragua after twice leaving U.S. authorities behind, appeared for the first time Monday in U.S. federal court, where prosecutors made sure she remained incarcerated amid an ongoing campaign-finance scandal tied to a former congressman.

Alliegro pleaded not guilty to four counts of making a false statement, conspiring and making illegal campaign contributions. She faces a maximum five years in prison for each charge.

According to an indictment, Alliegro and her “co-conspirators” helped steer almost $82,000 in unreported contributions to the campaign of another co-conspirator, Justin Lamar Sternad, in a 2012 Democratic congressional primary.

At times, Sternad’s campaign resembled a proxy for then-U.S. Rep. David Rivera in the way it attacked the Republican’s Democratic rival.

Continue reading "After 'deplorable' stay in Nicaragua lockup, David Rivera's gal pal kept in U.S. federal clink" »

Miami Dolphins want to swap $4 million tax bill for privately funded stadium renovation


The Miami Dolphins want to stop paying property taxes for Sun Life Stadium in exchange for privately funding a $350 million renovation, a deal that would put South Florida in the running again for Super Bowls but also endanger about $3.8 million that funds schools, libraries and other government services, according to people familiar with the talks.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez met with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross about two weeks ago, and said he would insist the team find a way for the arrangement not to dent the budgets of the School Board or Miami Gardens, where Sun Life Stadium is the city’s top taxpayer. Under the proposal, Sun Life would revert to county ownership and be free of property taxes, in the same way that the county-owned homes of the Miami Marlins and the Miami Heat are government facilities and exempt from taxation.

“He just wants to be treated fairly,” said Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel. “He wants to be treated like all the other franchise owners from that standpoint.”

The talks mark the first concrete sign that the Dolphins have not let up in their push for a renovated Sun Life after a bitter defeat last year in Tallahassee.

More here.

Marco Rubio cites stalled Uber Miami effort as example of regulations that upset young voters


The stalled proposal to bring luxury-car mobile-dispatcher Uber to Miami has caught the eye of Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Rubio, a Republican, used the anecdote Monday as an example of the type of regulations that upset young people who might otherwise be OK with more government involvement in the economy.

Students at the class he teaches at Florida International University debated the issue recently, Rubio said at a forum organized by the Jack Kemp Foundation at Google's Washington D.C. headquarters. Two county commissioners concerned about protecting the taxicab industry blocked legislation that would allow Uber and its competitors to operate in Miami.

Uber and companies like Sidecar and Lyft match mobile users with drivers who can give them a ride.

"People had heard about this concept -- maybe they traveled somewhere that had it," Rubio said of his class. "Well, the Miami-Dade commission didn't allow Uber to come in because of regulations.

"So for the first time, I see young people that potentially might be friendly to more government involvement in our economy arguing against regulatory impediments to an existing business -- in this case, government crowding them out."

Miami-Dade voters could be asked to clarify property appraiser's powers


A Miami-Dade County commissioner wants to find out what voters really meant when they decided six years ago to make the property appraiser an elected position.

Did voters intend for the appraiser to be a department head still reporting to Miami-Dade administrators? Or were they keen on making the job almost completely independent from County Hall?

To find out, Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo has suggested putting a question on the November ballot asking voters for clarification.

“When I voted on the item, that’s what I thought I was voting for — a completely independent person — and clearly, it wasn’t,” Bovo said. “It’s been sticking out there as something that I think should be resolved one way or another.”

His proposed referendum would ask if the property appraiser’s office should be moved from under the authority of the Miami-Dade home-rule charter and the county code to the Florida Constitution, making it independent from county government.

The question would go on the Nov. 4 general-election ballot, but any change to the office wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2017 — after the 2016 property appraiser election.

More here.

Mothers of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis join Sharpton in fight against SYG

Sharpton3Flanked by the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, civil rights leader and talk show host Rev. Al Sharpton called for the repeal of the state’s stand your ground law during a Monday march to the Capitol with several hundred supporters.

“The law is inherently wrong, whether it’s an unarmed teenager in Sanford or a man in a movie theater texting his babysitter,” Sharpton said. “It violates federal law.”

The mothers of Martin and Davis said they would work to repeal the law that they blame in the 2012 shooting deaths of their sons.

“I’m not here to accuse Michael Dunn of hiding behind the stand your ground law,” said Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis. “I’m here to accuse that law of giving him something to hide behind. I’m here to accuse the state of Florida and 25 other states of creating legislation that is nothing more than permission to kill. Florida, know this, there is a ground swell rising up and calling for change. I see that change arriving in the busloads that showed up here today and all the foot soldiers that have come to this point today.”

McBath said gun culture in American had become a “runaway train” thanks to Florida.

“This is the state where stand your ground began,” McBath said. “Justified homicides have risen by 200 percent. If this Legislature cannot see the demon that is had unleashed, and make a change to an egregious law, America will take stock of that. The backlash will go beyond the talk show jokes and newspaper columns that sling new ridicule at Florida’s approach to justice. The anger will extend itself to tourism, commerce, industry and public perception.”

“I’ve come too far to give up now,” said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. “Florida has a problem and we need to help Florida fix its problem. I’ve heard (all this) talk about F schools. Well Florida is an F state. Because right now, Florida is failing us. Florida is failing our teenagers, Florida is failing our young men and women, Florida has to change this law now.”

Sharpton cast much of his speech in broad legal terms. Tension between state rights and federal law, a crucial clash in the civil rights movement, has come to define the stand your ground debate, Sharpton said on the steps of the Capitol, facing the Florida Supreme Court.

“State law cannot supercede federal law,” Sharpton said. “Segregation was a state law. The right to own men and women was a state law. The history of the civil rights movement was the  history of state law vs. national and federal law. Trayvon Martin had the federal right to go home. Jordan Davis had the right, under federal law, to drive with his friends. The stand your ground law violates national and federal law.”

Joining Sharpton and the other speakers on Monday was the family of Emmitt Till, the Chicago teen whose 1955 murder for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi helped galvanize the civil rights movement.

“To go from whistling in Mississippi in ‘55 to loud music in Jacksonville in (2012) is not a lot of progress,” Sharpton said. “We must protect ourselves, yes, but protecting yourself is not having a social hallucination.”

Sharpton told reporters his National Action Network, which he formed in 1991 to promote civil rights, will campaign against the law through the elections.

“This is the beginning of a  whole spring and summer offensive, to put pressure on not only the Capitol but we’re going to go into these legislative districts,” Sharpton said. “Homicides have gone up since stand your ground. We can’t talk about making guns more available, we ought to be talking about making them less available. The legislation they’re doing I think is deadly.”

But protests like Sharpton’s in Florida have so far proved ineffective. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson visited the Capitol last summer, only to have his trip denounced later by Gov. Rick Scott and other Republican leaders. A group called the Dream Defenders had a 31-day sit-in the Capitol that led to no changes in stand your ground, but did lead to a new rule that bans after hours protests in the Capitol.

An array of new gun legislation is proposed this year that would make guns more prevalent on school campuses and easier to gain access to concealed weapons permits. And polls show continued strong public support for stand your ground.

Sharpton said, despite these trends, he wasn’t discouraged.

“The NRA, which wasn’t around last year, waited strategically until this year when the Legislature’s up, which is why we’re here now,” Sharpton said. “The only reason it’s an issue is because of the protests. It will tip the political scales in Florida. You may end up deciding, in a close election, who the governor and the state legislature on this particular issue.”