June 22, 2011

Alcee Hastings faces Congressional ethics review

A congressional ethics panel is investigating allegations that the Broward Democrat sexually harassed a member of his staff, according to an attorney with a legal group that filed a lawsuit against Hastings.

Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group, Judicial Watch, confirmed a report in the Wall Street Journal that the Office of Congressional Ethics -- the House's independent ethics investigative arm -- is looking at the case.

"My understanding is that they are reviewing the numerous allegations in the lawsuit," Fitton said.

Fitton's group in March filed a lawsuit on behalf of Winsome Packer, a staffer on the Helsinki commission that Hastings led. At the time Fitton said Packer was faced with a "never ending barrage of unwanted sexual advances" and was threatened and intimidated when she tried to report it.

Hastings had sharply rejected the allegations. The Journal says he "didn't directly address the allegations in a recent interview.

"Quite frankly your source has as much or more information than I do and I would suggest you rely upon them," he said. "It would be impossible for me in a paragraph or a page or two or a tome or volumes one and two to help you understand the dynamics of these events. I'll leave it at that."

April 14, 2011

House and Senate vote to keep federal government running until September

Shutdown averted! At least for the time being. Avoiding most of the drama that consumed last week, the Senate voted 81 to 19 to send legislation to the president that cuts this year's budget by $38 billion -- (though same have said accounting tricks means it cuts less than that).

Florida's two senators split their votes: Bill Nelson in favor; Marco Rubio opposed.

The House cleared the bill earlier with a 260 to 167 vote. House Speaker John Boehner needed Democrats to vote for the compromise he hammered out with President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as 59 of his Republicans voted "No." That included a bunch of the Florida freshmen who were elected with tea party support: Florida Republican Reps. Sandy Adams, Allen West, Steve Southerland, Dennis Ross and Connie Mack all voted against the measure, saying it didn't go far enough.

Also voting against it: Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings -- though he says the cuts go too deep.

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.

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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."

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