March 30, 2011

Plan to privatize South Florida prisons advances

As the House Appropriations Committee debates a $66.5-billion budget proposal, the most spirited debate involved a proposal to privatize prison and probation operations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Private prisons are nothing new -- the state has seven -- but privatizing the supervision of probationers is uncharted territory. (The panel approved the budget on a 15-8 party line vote).

"This subject probably hasn't been addressed anywhere in the nation," said Jim Baiardi, president of the Florida PBA's correctional officers chapter, who testified in opposition. "Where we're thinking of going is truly terrible for public safety." 

Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie, tried to abolish the privatization language but failed on a 14-9 vote. Rep. Will Snyder, R-Stuart, joined all eight committee Democrats in voting against privatization. The only South Florida Republican on the committee, Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, the House majority leader, voted for privatization.

Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who chairs the budget subcommittee for prisons, emphasized that the privatization idea is a "proposal" and must be approved by a 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Commission. "When you have less money, you can't continue to do business as usual," he said. 

The Department of Corrections did not propose the privatization and is "neutral" on the concept, Deputy Secretary Dan Ronay says.

-- Steve Bousquet

Alcee Hastings criticizes Obama on Libya

Alcee Hastings is questioning US involvement in Libya, saying there's "no question that there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Libya, driven by Muammar Gaddafi’s disregard of basic human rights and continued use of force against his own people.

But, he adds, "As a nation still paying a hefty price for our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, I had hoped the President would have been more cautious and conferred with Congress before getting the U.S. military involved in a third conflict. One of my biggest concerns about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan was the lack of a coherent military strategy from the outset. Unfortunately, I see this same issue arising in Libya where we seem to be focusing on the process of intervention rather than the overall strategy.

"A clear strategy, with stated goals, objectives, and an exit plan, is necessary before sending our young men and women into harm’s way. As of now, I do not see a clear strategy in place and this is very troubling."

The administration is holding closed door meetings today with lawmakers on Libya strategy.

Continue reading "Alcee Hastings criticizes Obama on Libya " »

March 07, 2011

Alcee Hastings: I've never sexually harassed anyone

Here's the Broward congressman's response to a conservative group's lawsuit accusing him of sexually harassing a former employee:

"My comments will be limited since I have not seen the complaint filed in U.S. District Court by Judicial Watch. I have seen a draft complaint prepared by my accuser that contains numerous inaccuracies and untruths. 

 "I have never sexually harassed anyone.  In fact, I am insulted that these ludicrous allegations are being made against me. When all the facts are known in this case, the prevailing sentiment will be, ‘How bizarre!’

"I will win this lawsuit.  That is a certainty.  In a race with a lie, the truth always wins. And when the truth comes to light and the personal agendas of my accusers are exposed, I will be vindicated."

Alcee Hastings sued for harassment

A former female employee who worked for Rep. Alcee Hastings filed a sexual harrassment lawsuit on Monday against the Florida congressman.

In the suit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., the victim, Winsome Packer, said the alleged harrassment took place from 2008-10, while Hastings served as chair and later co-chair of the U.S. Commission on Cooperation and Security in Europe -- also known as the Helsinki Commission.

The commission was also named as a defendant in the suit, which was brought by Packer and Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group. Hastings could not be immediately reached for comment.

January 20, 2011

Alcee Hastings calls for stronger gun control laws in wake of Miami-Dade cop shooting

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings decried the shooting death of two Miami-Dade police officers today -- saying the "tragic and senseless deaths " underscore the need for stronger gun control measures.

"The lessons learned from this shooting, and that of the tragedy in Tucson, are staring us in the face and we need to take action to address the ludicrous availability of guns in this country," said Hastings, a co-sponsor of H.R. 263, the Fire Sale Loophole Closing Act introduced by Congressman Gary Ackerman and H.R. 308, the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act introduced by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy.   



January 06, 2011

Diminished Florida Dems ask Republicans to share some clout

Down to just six of Florida's 25 member-delegation, Democrats are asking the new delegation chair, Rep. Cliff Stearns to share his seat at the table.

The delegation has traditionally been run by a co-chair from each party: Stearns' predecessor, Miami Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, co-chaired the delegation with Broward Dem Rep. Alcee Hastings. Stearns, however, an Ocala Republican, has said he'll ask Hastings to be vice chair.

In a letter to Stearns, the Democrats -- including Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson -- say it is their "hope that we may continue the long-standing tradition of a bipartisan, collaborative Florida delegation.

"We expect that the delegation will continue to be led by two co-chairs who will work together to set the agenda for regular delegation meetings on matters of importantce to the people of our state," the six wrote.

January 03, 2011

Wall Street Journal: House ethics panel drops probe of Hastings, others

WSJ: "The House ethics committee dropped an investigation into how six lawmakers spent federal travel funds while visiting foreign countries, citing a lack of evidence and confusing rules on the use of such money.

"The ruling comes after the House's independent ethics board, the Office of Congressional Ethics, found enough evidence to refer the matter to the ethics committee following a Wall Street Journal article in March that said lawmakers had used daily cash stipends to cover expenses that appeared to be unauthorized by House rules.

"The investigation focused on Reps. Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.), G.K. Butterfield (D., N.C.), Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), Alcee Hastings (D., Fla.), Solomon Ortiz (D., Texas) and Joe Wilson (R., S.C.)."

December 08, 2010

Obama tax deal divides Florida Democrats: Nelson supports, Hastings opposes

President Barack Obama is facing fierce opposition among some Democrats for his compromise with Republicans over extending the Bush-era tax cuts, but Florida Sen. Bill Nelson says he'll vote for the "bipartisan compromise.

"Sen. Nelson shares the concern of many experts who believe tax increases right now would derail an already anemic economic recovery," his office says. "Fact is, the economy’s a long way from being healthy - something Floridians, unfortunately, know better than most - and this series of tax cuts and economic assistance are needed to help bring us back. That’s why Sen. Nelson intends to vote for the bipartisan compromise. "

That's a far cry from Broward Democrat Alcee Hastings, who signed a protest letter along with 25 or so Democrats who called extending the tax cuts "fiscally irresponsible" and "grossly unfair."

"We support extending tax cuts in full to 98 percent of American taxpayers, as the President initially proposed," the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reads. "(The president) should not back down. Nor should we."

Continue reading "Obama tax deal divides Florida Democrats: Nelson supports, Hastings opposes" »

December 02, 2010

How Florida voted on the Charles Rangel censure

The House just voted to censure New York Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel for financial and fundraising misconduct.

The vote was 333-79. It was only the 23rd time that the House has invoked its most serious punishment short of expulsion. The solemn procedure will force Rangel to appear at the front of the chamber while
Speaker Nancy Pelosi reads the censure resolution.

Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Kathy Castor and Ron Klein voted for censure. Orlando Democrat Alan Grayson and Jacksonville Democrat Corrine Brown voted against it. Most Florida Republicans voted for it; three missed the vote, as did Democrats Kendrick Meek and Alcee Hastings.

November 09, 2010

Congressional Black Caucus said to be ready to welcome Allen West

The Congressional Black Caucus is said to be ready to allow the black Broward Republican to join the all-Dem group.

"The all-Democratic caucus had wavered over the issue since Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida were elected last week," the AP notes. "Chairwoman Barbara Lee had pointed to the group's liberal mission statement as a potential point of conflict.

"But in a statement Tuesday, the group said the two would be welcomed if they request membership. West has said he wants to join to bring a new perspective to the group. Scott hasn't decided."

In an interview with Fox Business News, West said he "has all the qualifications to join. I am a black American and a member of Congress..." West -- the first black Republican member of Congress from Florida since Reconstruction -- noted that caucus members Alcee Hastings and Georgia Rep. John Lewis had campaigned against him, but that he's "willing to put that aside.

"I'm not a petty or petulant person," West said. "I think that we need to have that discourse and we need to have that intellectual debate within the Congressional Black Caucus..."