March 08, 2013

Stadium bill survives hostile amendments, wins approval of House panel


The Miami Dolphins’ push for a taxpayer-supported stadium renovations gained steam in the Florida Legislature on Friday, sidestepping a number of toxic amendments aimed at killing the bill.

The Dolphins, who are asking for as much as $200 million in taxpayer support for the stadium overhaul, shepherded their proposal through its first committee stop in the Florida House, where it passed by a 12-4 vote.

The battery of rogue amendments include
d a proposal from Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, to have Broward County to help foot the bill for proposed improvements to SunLife Stadium. The bill as originally drafted would require only Miami-Dade County to raise its mainland hotel tax.

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March 07, 2013

Should Broward help pay for Dolphins stadium upgrade? Dade lawmaker thinks so

After adding an amendment to require Miami-Dade voters to approve a new local hotel tax to help pay for a $400 million upgrade of the Miami Dolphins stadium, skeptical lawmakers may be planning more changes for the controversial proposal. 

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, implied that the bill should include a contribution from Broward County taxpayers as well, since much of the economic benefit from the Miami Gardens stadium takes place north of the Dade County line.

“One concern that I have is Dade County is paying 100 percent of the tax,” said Trujillo. “We receive, best case scenario…38 percent of the tourists. The majority stay in Broward and Broward doesn’t have to pay anything.”

Trujillo sits on the Finance and Tax Committee, where the bill will be heard on Friday—along with four lawmakers from Broward County. A Senate version of the bill passed its second of four committee stops on Wednesday, with a unanimous vote.

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January 30, 2013

House Democratic leader blasts decade of GOP governance, pushes for Medicaid expansion

Rep. Perry Thurston, the House Democratic leader, said voters in Florida are not impressed with Republican-led governance, and said even GOP leaders are beginning to feel the same way.

In a 30-minute talk that covered issues ranging from Florida’s elections debacle to implementing federal healthcare to investing in education, Thurston blamed his Republican counterparts for problems facing the state. He said reform efforts currently being pushed by Republican officials—election reform, ethics reform, education financing, healthcare implementation—all seek to deal with problems caused by the GOP-led Legislature.

Thurston said the ruling party had been “foot dragging” when it comes to implementing the federal healthcare reform. He pointed to a letter from former House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 that effectively kept state agencies from planning for reform. The state is now trying to figure out how to conform to the law and facing several deadlines. The decision about whether or not to expand Medicaid is a critical one for the state, and Thurston supports the expansion.

 “We’re going to save lives.  We’re not talking about turning down money fro a rail system; we’re talking about saving lives,” said Thurston. “Not to do this would be morally reprehensible.”

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October 22, 2012

Write-in candidates: Sham or sincere?

TALLAHASSEE — They are the candidates you don't see. They don't collect signatures or pay fees to run. They almost never raise or spend money. They don't attend campaign forums or knock on doors. Their names never appear on the ballot. And they always lose.

Yet, write-in candidates matter in Florida.

When they run, voters lose.

This year alone, more than 900,000 Floridians were stopped from casting a ballot in 15 competitive state House and Senate races because a write-in candidate signed up to run.

It's a loophole in Florida's quirky election system that can be exploited to prevent Democrats and independents from choosing a representative from among only Republicans, and vice versa.

"It's a sham," said Carl Domino, a Jupiter Republican.

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July 24, 2012

Chamber backs Lisbon in his primary challenge against Rep. Gibbons

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Sheldon Lisbon, a Democratic candidate for state house in the new District 100 which runs from Surfside to Dania Beach. Lisbon is running against State Rep. Joe Gibbons (D-Hallandale Beach).

Although Gibbons is running for his third term and has about double the size of Lisbon's campaign account, this could be a competitive race because 57 percent of the voters live in Miami-Dade County. Gibbons lives in Broward while Lisbon lives in Surfside, a small community in Miami-Dade County, where he served for a few months on the Town Commission before resigning to run for state house.

The chamber gave Gibbons a "D" on its 2012 legislative report card. But the big issue which could have cost Gibbons the endorsement was his support for expanding gambling to include large destination resorts -- something the Chamber opposed earlier this  year.

Gibbons says that if done correctly, expanded gambling would create jobs and boost tourism.

Lisbon has criticized Gibbons for taking donations from those in the gambling industry. But in an interview  with the Miami Herald, Lisbon didn't entirely rule out supporting a gambling expansion. When asked if he was flat-out opposed he said "no"  but that he doesn't want it near religious institutions or schools.

"Personally I am opposed to gambling but if it brings in money ... it has to take into consideration how it will impact the community -- the traffic impact, negative impact on schools. ... I don't want it to be a Las Vegas kind of town." 

The Chamber doesn't release candidate questionnaires but spokeswoman Edie Ousley said that Lisbon  told the chamber that "he does oppose the expansion of casino gambling" and therefore his position is in line with the chamber's position.

The Associated Industries of Florida, a business group that supported destination gambling resorts, endorsed Gibbons.




June 06, 2012

New Surfside commissioner taking on Rep. Joe Gibbons

Updated with comments from Gibbons:

Today we caught up with Democrat Sheldon Lisbon, elected to the Surfside City Commission in March who recently announced he is challenging state Rep. Joe Gibbons (D-Hallandale Beach) in District 100.

Gibbons, first elected in 2006 and a former city commissioner, has the advantage of incumbency, name recognition and $24,800 raised while Lisbon is jumping in with less than three months before the primary. But Gibbons may not be as well-known in Miami-Dade as he is in Broward and the newly drawn district is now 57-43 Miami-Dade/Broward.

Gibbons says those numbers aren't a major challenge. He said the district includes about one-quarter of his former legislative district and much of Hallandale Beach, the city where he was elected as a commissioner at-large. Gibbons said he has longer roots in the community than his opponent -- Gibbons has lived in Florida  since 1994, the bulk of that time in Broward, and has been involved with community organizations including as a board member of the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Hollywood.

Lisbon said there was a mistake on his press release -- he has lived in Surfside since 2006, not 1996.

But we were more interested in why Lisbon wanted to take on a fellow Democrat to toil in a Republican-dominated state Legislature. Lisbon said he had no specific criticisms of Gibbons in terms of the issues or votes.

Lisbon described himself as a "moderate Lieberman type Democrat" -- a reference to the Democrat turned independent Connecticut U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman. And he described himself as someone who can compromise with the other side.

Lisbon is a longtime teacher who currently teaches government and history at Jewish schools in North Miami Beach.

"Florida is 50th out of 50th behind Alabama as far as the level of education we are giving our children," he said.

Education rankings can be tricky -- the state's ranking depends on the year of data being cited and the criteria. Here's a fact-check from PolitiFact about a similar claim made by Bud Chiles but note that was in 2010 so more recent educational rankings might be available.



May 31, 2012

State Rep. Joe Gibbons faces challenge from Surfside Commissioner

Surfside City Commissioner and Democrat Sheldon Lisbon announced that he will challenge state Rep. Joe Gibbons (Hallandale Beach) in House District 100 which overlaps Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Lisbon said in a press release that he has lived in Surfside since 1996 and teaches part-time at high schools in Dade County and has served as president of Young Israel of Bar Harbour.

Gibbons, a former city commissioner first elected to the house in 2006, has raised $24,800 so far.

April 27, 2012

Mendelsohn loses appeal to reduce sentence on tax fraud

Alan Mendelsohn, the Hollywood physician and ex-GOP fundraiser imprisoned for four years on a tax-related fraud conviction, has lost his federal appeal to reduce his sentence.

Last year, U.S. District Judge William Zloch slapped Mendelsohn with the sentence, saying he corrupted the democratic process in the Florida Legislature by secretly funneling $82,000 through a legislative aide to a former state senator in exchange for political favors.

Zloch rejected the Justice Department’s recommended prison sentence for Mendelsohn, between two and 2½ years, and his defense attorney’s bid for probation with no jail time. The judge said both failed to address the seriousness of his criminal behavior.

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April 23, 2012

Former state Sen. Mandy Dawson pleads guilty to tax evasion

Former Fort Lauderdale legislator Mandy Dawson, who became entangled in a U.S. Justice Department probe into “pay to play politics” in the state’s capital, pleaded guilty Monday in Miami federal court to one count of tax evasion and a second offense of failing to file a tax return.

Dawson, who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years, faces up to six years in prison at her sentencing set for July 20.

Dawson’s plea brings to a close the Justice Department’s 5-year-old investigation into influence peddling in Tallahassee, which revolved around now-imprisoned Hollywood doctor Alan Mendelsohn, who doubled as a Republican lobbyist and fundraiser.

“I am no different than any other person walking the streets of America,” said Dawson, as she stood outside the courtroom, flanked by her attorney and husband.

In late 2010, when Mendelsohn pleaded guilty to a fraud-conspiracy charge, he said in federal court that he funneled $82,000 to Dawson through a former legislative aide when the Democrat served as a state senator during the past decade. As part of the plot, the aide was hired for a no-show job by one of the physician’s political action committees because Dawson “made this request repeatedly,” he said. Read more here.

March 28, 2012

Florida Sen. Chris Smith to Gov. Rick Scott: delay of 'Stand Your Ground' review 'disappointing,' 'puzzling'

State Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, the incoming Democratic leader, has sent Gov. Rick Scott a letter calling the governor's delay to review Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law "disappointing." Scott had proposed that a special task force examine the law following the death of Trayvon Martin, the Miami Gardens 17-year-old shot and killed last month in Sanford. 

Smith and other lawmakers had requested that Scott speed up convening the task force. The governor's office told him expediting the task force's work before more details of the Trayvon case become available would be "premature."

"Apparently you or your spokesman misunderstood the intention of my letter," Smith wrote Scott.

"Governor, my request to expedite the task force is not just about Trayvon Martin or skittles and iced tea. It is about the ambiguity of a highly contentious law that since 2005 has left a string of killings throughout Florida and the invocation of 'stand your ground' as a shield of immunity from prosecution. It is about the confusion on the part of the public, law enforcement and our judicial system, and the haphazard interpretation and application of the law. And it is about your puzzling willingness to delay for up to a year a critical review of Stand Your Ground by a task force you proposed, despite a wealth of existing data and cases already available for dissection."

Scott was asked at a news conference Wednesday whether he would accelerate the task force and he said he didn't see a need to do that. The task force should meet "once the investigation is over," he said.

"If we determine that we're not treating citizens in the state properly every official up here would agree to the same thing -- we'll make the change. But the right thing to do is let's first get through this investigation. Let's find out what happened here. Let's make sure justice prevails. Then, we will have this task force."

Click after the jump for the full text of Smith's letter.

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