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13 posts from August 4, 2014

August 04, 2014

Are legislators headed for stand-off with judge and more litigation?

Coalition proposed remedial mapFlorida legislators indicated Monday that they will meet in special session this week to make the court-ordered repairs to two congressional districts in North and Central Florida but they will not accept holding special elections this year to put them in place.

In a joint email to legislators, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said they “continue to maintain our strong objection to any attempt to disrupt the current election process.’’ But they also laid out the schedule for the special session they are convening on Thursday in response to an Aug. 15 deadline imposed on them by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis.

Lewis ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ruled unconstitutional, those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. He wants the Legislature to fix the map to make Brown’s snake-shaped district more compact and to remove an appendage in Webster’s Central Florida-based district intended to give Republicans an advantage.

He also said he was considering calling a special election after Nov. 4 for candidates in the districts with new boundaries. Voting would proceed normally for all the other races on the ballot.

But legislators want the new districts to take effect in 2016 and said that if Lewis attempts to hold a special election to implement the new boundaries this year, they will oppose it — potentially challenging his decision in state or federal court.

"Florida’s Supervisors of Elections have raised serious concerns over changing the elections process at this late date,’’ wrote Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel and Gaetz, R-Niceville. “The NAACP also pointed out in their motion to Judge Lewis that, ‘In a special election, get-out-the-vote infrastructure simply does not exist.’"

Under most scenarios, any changes to Brown and Webster’s districts could force changes in surrounding districts held by incumbent U.S. Reps. Ander Crenshaw, Ted Yoho, Ron DeSantis, John Mica and Bill Posey, all Republicans.

Under a map proposed by the Democrat-leaning voting groups that filed the lawsuit, Brown’s district — which now snakes through North Florida from Jacksonville to Orlando, packing in Democrats and black voters — would be revised to be primarily a Jacksonville-based seat but cut across the top edge of the state into Tallahassee. Story here.

Map: Coalition plaintiffs proposed remedial map, exhibit 2 

Continue reading "Are legislators headed for stand-off with judge and more litigation?" »

As Sheldon fends off residency questions, Thurston can relate


Who knew that the Democratic race for Attorney General would pit two candidates who have had their eligibility to hold office questioned because of residency issues?

Since last week, all eyes have been on George Sheldon. After he learned that his Florida Bar license lapsed because he hadn’t completed and reported his continuing legal education. Sheldon signed an exemption from that rule last week that stated he had been a nonresident living in Washington D.C. from 2011 to October 2013 while working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Florida Constitution requires AG candidates to live in Florida the preceding seven years, which Sheldon said he did, despite signing the nonresident exemption.

“I think it raises some serious questions,” said his opponent, House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, last week. “He has to satisfy the legal requirement of being a resident.”

Alas, Thurston has had his own difficulties in proving his residency.

Thurston, along with several other South Florida Democrats, were flagged last year for potentially not living in their legislative districts.

As Miami’s WPLG 10 reported in June 2013, Thurston’s Fort Lauderdale home that he claimed to live in, at Northwest 7th Terrace, was rundown and showed little sign that the lawmaker lived there. A neighbor said Thurston didn’t.

Local 10 reporter Bob Norman, however, discovered that Thurston seemed to be living in “in his much larger longtime home in a more upscale neighborhood in Planation.”


Continue reading "As Sheldon fends off residency questions, Thurston can relate" »

Miami-Dade property appraiser asks for hearing against Department of Revenue


The Miami-Dade property appraiser filed legal action against the state of Florida on Monday over an obscure administrative rule the county says has contributed to mucking up crucial tax collections for local governments.

At issue is the way property owners can go about appealing their tax assessments before the Value Adjustment Board, an agency whose work is being scrutinized by the Miami-Dade Inspector General.

Florida law allows owners to reschedule an appeal “a single time.” But rules written by the state Department of Revenue in 2009 say the hearing can be rescheduled once and then again and again, indefinitely, if the petitioner shows “good cause.” Among valid reasons: illness, a death in the family, a delay in the hearing or “other reasons beyond” the petitioner’s control.

Those repeated delays go beyond what state law allows, the office of acting Property Appraiser Lazaro Solis argued in its legal petition to the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. And the delays waste the property appraiser’s resources and ability to certify the final tax rolls that are local governments’ lifeblood, he said.

“It’s killing us,” he said.

In 2012, about 28 percent of value-adjustment 73,800 appeals were rescheduled at least twice.

The 2012 tax rolls were certified nearly 18 months late.

Police official breaks law to advocate against medical marijuana


North Miami Beach became the latest flashpoint in Florida’s medical-marijuana fight when a police official broke state law by improperly emailing out political talking-points from opponents of the ballot initiative that voters will decide in November.

Residents, city leaders and medical-marijuana advocates were fired up that Commander Tom Carney sent the “Truth About Medical Marijuana” email from his official work account — and that he then resent the "deceptive" email when city managers quickly forced him to send a follow-up explaining he did not intend to break the law.

“From the get go it shouldn't have been disseminated and then when it was done wrong the first time, it didn't need to be compounded the second time,” City Councilwoman Barbara Kramer wrote in an email to city officials Friday after a constituent complained about Carney’s politicking on the taxpayer dime.

“Guess I'm not the only one who thinks the PD shouldn't be sending this out,” she wrote.

Under state law, non-elected public officials are generally prohibited from engaging in electoral politics by using their public office, computers or email accounts – especially when they’re supposed to be doing their public jobs.

A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum year in jail and a $1,000 fine. That’s the same penalty for personal marijuana possession in Florida.

Medical-marijuana proponents say the controversy highlights the lengths to which law-enforcement and some government officials will go to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment on November’s ballot.

“It is unfortunate that a member of a law-enforcement agency would break the law in the service of denying relief to suffering Floridians who could be helped by medical marijuana,” added Ben Pollara, executive director for United for Care, which is leading the effort to pass the amendment.

More here

Gov. Scott's Half True claim about Eric Holder and early voting

As Florida heads toward a hotly contested governor’s race in November, Attorney General Eric Holder warned Gov. Rick Scott that the feds are "carefully monitoring" voter access in the state.

"I am deeply disturbed that during your tenure, your state has repeatedly added barriers to voting and restricted access to the polls," Holder wrote in a July 21 letter to Scott.

Holder recapped changes in state election law during Scott’s tenure, as well as the state’s attempt to purge noncitizen voters from the rolls, disenfranchisement of felons and a dispute about where voters can return absentee ballots in Pinellas County.

When the Tampa Bay Times blogged about the letter Aug. 1, Scott’s campaign dismissed Holder’s letter as a "bizarre attempt to help Charlie Crist" -- Scott’s likely Democratic opponent in November and an ally of President Barack Obama.

Holder and Scott’s campaign made some dueling claims about the state’s early voting law.

Holder wrote that 2011 changes in state law "significantly narrowed the early voting window" and that a federal three-judge panel concluded it threatened a "dramatic reduction in a form of voting disproportionately used by African-Americans."

Holder wrote: "Accordingly, the court refused to approve reduced early voting hours with respect to the five counties in Florida covered by the preclearance provision in the Voting Rights Act."

That led the Scott campaign to point the finger at Holder, for allowing the 2011 early voting law to be implemented: "In fact, Attorney General Eric Holder’s own Justice Department precleared the voting changes in the 2011 law that governed the 2012 general election in Florida," Scott campaign manager Melissa Sellers wrote.

At a campaign event in St. Petersburg on the same day, Scott made a similar claim:

"In 2011, we changed our voting laws, and they were precleared by the Justice Department ... ."

Since Scott, a Republican, is on the ballot this year, we decided to fact-check his statement that the Justice Department approved the early voting changes.

On first blush, the claims from Holder and Scott sound like they are in conflict: A federal court refused to allow the reduction in the early voting schedule, but Holder signed off on the changes. We found that Scott left out some important steps along the way to implementing that law. Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the full story.

'Souls to the polls' slowly making a comeback in Fla.

Early voting in the Aug. 26 statewide primary election starts next week across Florida, and one of the changes the Legislature made in 2013 was to allow early voting on the Sunday immediately before the election.

It's known as "Souls to the Polls" because a lot of churches, especially in African-American neighborhoods, encouraged worshippers to vote after attending Sunday services.

Politifact Florida confirmed that black voters were more likely than other minority groups to take advantage of the convenience on the Sunday right before the election.

Ten of Florida's 67 counties will hold early voting open on Sunday, Aug. 24, but they include most of the state's largest counties.They are Bradford, Broward, Charlotte, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Seminole.

Among the 10 most populous counties, three will not hold early voting on that final Sunday: Brevard, Lee and Polk. Those three and the rest will end early voting on Saturday, Aug. 23. All counties' early voting hours and locations are on the state Division of Elections website.

Under the new early voting system, approved as part of HB 7013 in the 2013 session, counties must offer early voting on a minimum of eight days and can offer it up to 14, and they are required to hold early voting on the preceding Sunday, Aug. 17.

Some county election supervisors don't offer early voting two days before the election to give their employees a day of rest. In addition, turnout for the primary is expected to be low, in the 20 percent range (statewide turnout in the 2012 primary was 20.5 percent, and it was 22 percent in 2010).

Movers & Shakers

Sen. Grimsley named to new human trafficking council

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz to the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking, which was established by the legislature this session.

The first meeting of the 15-member council will be held at 2 p.m. Aug. 18th in Room 214 of the Knott Building at the Capitol.

Grimsley, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, is the newest addition to the council. Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, was appointed by House Speaker Will Weatherford. The two remaining members will be appointed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, the council's chairman, appointed Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle; Martin County Sheriff William SnyderTerry Coonan, executive director of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; and Dotti Groover-Skipper, chairwoman of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking to the council.

The other members are Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, who will serve as vice chairman; State Surgeon General Dr. John ArmstrongElizabethDudek, Secretary of the state Agency for Health Care Administration; Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Interim SecretaryChristina Daly; and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Florida ethics commission elects a new chairman

Linda McKee Robison, the former vice chairman of the Florida Commission on Ethics, was elected its chairman at the panel's July 25th meeting.

Robison, who is a partner in the Corporate Transactions Group of Shutts & Bowen, LLP, has served on the commission since 2011.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

Crist's Mostly False attack on Scott about raising taxes

Sorting through this year’s gubernatorial campaign attacks has long since become taxing -- namely, who raised taxes and how much they’ve cost voters.

The latest charge from Democratic challenger Charlie Crist comes from a campaign ad released July 31, 2014. In it, he attacked Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott’s budget decisions. "Rick Scott raised property taxes," the ad said. A narrator doubles down on the claim, saying Scott raised "your" property taxes.

Scott came into office promising to cut property taxes, so PolitiFact Florida thought this claim deserved an audit. Did Rick Scott raise Florida’s property taxes? PolitiFact Florida budgeted some time to sort this one out and rated it Mostly False

This fact-check was written by Joshua Gillin.

FMA says no to pot for debilitating ailments, opposes Amendment 2

Marijuana samplesThe Florida Medical Association has come out against Amendment 2, taking the position that the amendment will open the door to untrained doctors prescribing the marijuana for medical uses.

The FMA position, however, is silent to the fact that if the amendment passes, the Legislature and state regulators will have the power to regulate the use of cannabis. The Florida Department of Health is designated as  the regulating body under the amendment. It is currently undergoing a rigorous rule-making process to regulate low_THC cannabis which the Legislature legalized last spring.

Here's the FMA press release: 

Continue reading "FMA says no to pot for debilitating ailments, opposes Amendment 2" »

Judge upholds ruling disqualifying write-in candidate for Tampa House seat, opening GOP primary


Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey has reaffirmed her decision to disqualify a man from running as a write-in candidate for a Tampa Bay House seat. She also refused to call for a temporary halt on her order that the planned August primary be postponed and the House District 64 race between two Republicans be opened up to all voters, regardless of party affiliation, in November.

Dempsey ruled last week that Daniel Matthews was not eligible to run as a write-in candidate in House District 64, which includes parts of northern Pinellas and northwest Hillsborough counties, because he didn't live in the district at the time of qualifying. Dempsey said that the primary between incumbent Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, and challenger Miriam Steinberg had erroneously been restricted to Republican voters only.

Tia_HD64noticeBallots have already been printed for the August primary, so Dempsey directed the Hillsborough and Pinellas supervisors of elections to put out notices letting voters know the primary has been rescheduled to November and opened to all voters in the district.

Matthews' attorney has asked the First District Court of Appeal to take up the case, but it is too early to know if that will happen. In the meantime, Matthews requested an emergency hearing with Dempsey to ask her to put aside her ruling while the matter is pending in the higher court.

Dempsey gave each side about 30 minutes during the lunch hour today to make its case. In the end, she upheld her ruling and declined the request for a stay.