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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March 26, 2012

Sen. Chris Smith's Stand Your Ground claim faces Truth-0-Meter

The fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., has reopened debate about the state’s "stand your ground" law.

One of the arguments we’ve heard from lawmakers wanting to change the 2005 law is that deaths due to self-defense are up dramatically since "stand your ground" passed. The law -- approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005 -- allows people to use deadly force when they believe their life is at risk.

Sen. Chris Smith, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, wants to rewrite the law because he fears its protections are too broad. Smith wants to change the law so that it only applies in cases that take place in a home, car or at work. He also wants to prohibit the use of "stand your ground" in cases where the shooter has provoked a confrontation, Smith said in a March 21 press release sent by the Senate Democratic office.

"This law has been a double-edged sword," said Smith, who was the House Democratic leader in 2005 when "stand your ground" passed. Smith voted against the law. "Stand your ground’ appears to be giving suspects better protections from arrest and prosecution than increased security measures for the citizens the law was originally intended to protect. This needs to be dramatically changed. … We can’t keep turning a blind eye to the number of lives this law has claimed."

According to the press release, Smith noted that "since the law’s passage, deaths due to self defense have jumped over 250 percent."

PolitiFact checks it out.

March 05, 2012

UPDATED Miami-Dade mayor to Florida lawmakers: Don't make it easier to move urban development boundary

UPDATE: The Florida Senate's rules committee decided Monday morning that Bogdanoff's amendment is out of order because it is not germane to the narrow subject of the legislation, HB 4003. The amendment, said Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican and the chamber's rules chairman, "introduces a new, unrelated subject that is not natural and logical."

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On the heels of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s declaration last week that he will push to strengthen the urban development boundary, a countermove has sprung up in the Florida Legislature that would weaken the county’s protection against urban sprawl on its western and southern fringes.

State Sen. Ellyn Bodganoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, put forth an amendment to a House bill on Friday that would make it easier to shift the UDB by requiring a simple majority of the commission to approve any change to the county’s comprehensive plan, which guides development.

But Gimenez protested, calling the move an attempt to undermine the county’s unique local powers.

On Tuesday, at his first state-of-the-county address, the mayor said he would work to bolster the UDB by pushing to incorporate into the county charter a requirement that an extraordinary supermajority — three-fourths, or 10 of 13 commissioners — sign off on any changes to the invisible boundary that limits development bordering the Everglades.

The county currently requires a two-thirds majority — nine of 13 commissioners — to approve any change to the UDB.

Gimenez sent a letter Friday to each member of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation — along with Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park — blasting the legislative move as an interference with Miami-Dade’s Home Rule Charter. He said it “potentially threatens precious wetlands.” More here.

February 07, 2012

Former Sen. Mandy Dawson pleads guilty in tax evasion case

Mandy DawsonFormer Broward state Sen. Mandy Dawson plans to plead guilty in a federal case that accuses her of income tax evasion, according to court records filed Monday.

Dawson, 55, was arrested in July on federal charges of tax evasion and failing to file tax returns while she was an elected official in 2004 and 2005. She was charged as a result of the federal corruption investigation that led to the arrest and imprisonment of former Hollywood eye doctor and political fundraiser Dr. Alan Mendelsohn.

The former lawmaker wants a judge to give her and her federal public defender an extra two months to figure out details of the proposed plea agreement, including precisely how much she would owe the IRS, according to the court records.

Photo: Steve Cannon, Associated Press, 2005

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January 25, 2012

Broward County descends on Tallahassee

Broward County is in the house.

Scores of local officials, business leaders and community advocates are in Tallahassee this week for Broward Days. The group will take a tour of the Capitol and participate in panel discussions on education, gaming and leadership. Group members will also meet with state lawmakers.

Participants this year include Broward County Mayor John Rodstrom, County Commissioners Chip LaMarca, Dale Holness, Stacy Ritter and Ilene Lieberman, and a number of mayors, city commissioners and school board members.

Gov. Rick Scott welcomed the group Wednesday.

“It is really important that you do this,” Scott said.

In a short speech, Scott said he is focused on fixing Florida’s personal injury protection law, reforming state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and enhancing public education.

Broward Teachers Union policy director Maggie Zalamea plans to take Scott up on that promise.

“Will you come to Broward and talk to us?” Zalamea asked the governor. “We’d love to be at the table with you.”

Scott's response: “Absolutely.”

January 17, 2012

Rep. Martin Kiar will seek Broward County Commission seat

Six years in the state Legislature is enough for state Rep. Marty Kiar. The Democrat from Davie will leave the House in 2012 to seek an open seat on the Broward County Commission being vacated by the term-limited Ilene Lieberman of Lauderhill.

"It's always been my dream to serve on the County Commission," said Kiar, 34. "You can vote on Tuesday and help people on Wednesday." He said he longs to serve in local government, which is subject to the Sunshine Law, and that the level of back room dealing in Tallahassee is a "disgrace."

Kiar said his decision to quit the Legislature is motivated by a desire to be closer to his young family, and has nothing to do with reapportionment. A map of Senate districts that's before the full Senate redraws the West Broward district seat held by Democrat Nan Rich so that it becomes a predominantly Palm Beach County seat, and is being eyed by Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington. "It's hard on my family, being away for so long," he said.

The District 1 commission seat encompasses Weston, Sunrise, Plantation and small parts of Davie, Lauderhill and Tamarac. Kiar faces an Aug. 14 primary against Lauderhill City Commissioner Howard Berger. Commissioners earn more than $90,000 a year, about three times as much as a state legislator.

-- Steve Bousquet

January 07, 2012

For Broward lawmakers, a session to tackle redistricting, gambling

Broward lawmakers, most of them Democrats, have fought loudly but been largely powerless in the Republican-controlled state Capitol.

That won’t change in the annual legislative session that begins Tuesday.

Yet Broward, mostly by virtue of its location, will be at the heart of a key, heated debate that will play out in Tallahassee over the next two months: Should the state allow big-time casinos in South Florida?

Leading the issue is Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale, one of the county delegation’s few Republicans. Along with Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, Bogdanoff is pushing to reshape gambling in Florida and allow up to three so-called “destination resort” casinos in Florida.

And Broward, the second-largest county in the state, will also be at the center of redistricting, the once-a-decade process of drawing new legislative districts to ensure each has an equal population.

Redistricting, also known as reapportionment, will force all Florida House and Senate members to be up for election this fall — a prospect that will make this year’s session more political than usual as every lawmaker casts votes with an eye on November.

Most of lawmakers’ time will be spent on redistricting and crafting a state budget. Florida faces a projected shortfall of $1.7 billion; Gov. Rick Scott has called for a $1 billion boost in public school spending, paid for in part by cutting state Medicaid payments to hospitals. Full stoy here.

December 27, 2011

Is Bogdanoff correct that Florida is No. 4 in gambling?

Supporters of a proposed bill that would allow three massive destination casino resorts in South Florida often argue that gambling is already a big business here -- in fact, one of the largest in the country.

"Florida is considered the fourth-largest gambling state in the nation, but it has let the industry drive policy decisions and that has produced the worst kind of gaming,'' Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said in an October 2011 interview about her casinos bill. "To me, no kind of gaming is good, but we as policymakers have to decide, do we want gaming with five-star hotels or Internet cafes in strip malls?"

That fourth-largest ranking claim has been repeated multiple times by Bogdanoff, including in a joint editorial with state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and by other individuals, including former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Diaz-Balart is a lawyer and adviser for the Genting Group, which has purchased the waterfront Miami Herald property with plans to build a mega casino-resort there.

The Truth-O-Meter researched to find out if we are indeed No. 4.

November 17, 2011

Senate panel aids prison drug offenders

A Senate committee passed a bill Thursday that, for the first time in decades, would ease the 85-percent sentencing requirement for a very small group of state prison inmates. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-0 for a bill by Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale to require the prison system to divert certain inmates serving time for drug offenses into treatment programs after they serve half their sentences.

"We have to recognize that these people are sick," Bogdanoff testified. "Nobody's letting violent criminals out of jail and that's not the goal here." 

A Senate staff report noted that "the bill will likely result in cost savings to the state" and that 276 inmates would be eligible in the first year (out of more than 50,000 drug offenders in state prisons). Before leaving prison and entering a drug treatment program, the inmate would have to appear before a judge, who would have the discretion to admit or refuse the inmate's enrollment.   

Bogdanoff accepted amendments to her bill (SB 448) that eliminated opposition from sheriffs and police chiefs. The amended bill would bar any habitual offenders or sex offenders from eligibility for the re-entry program, and requires the Department of Corrections to consider the inmate's criminal history. Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, a panel member and ex-sheriff, said he would have opposed the bill without that provision. Others voting yes were Sens. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla; Greg Evers, R-Baker, the chairman; and Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

Thursday's vote was a tribute to the tenacity of Bogdanoff, who has pushed the measure for several years. "You have to kind of be patient in this business," she told reporters after the vote.    

-- Steve Bousquet

November 02, 2011

Democrats Rich, Saunders offer views on 2012 legislative session

Both Democratic caucus leaders in the Legislature offered contrasting views Wednesday about the upcoming 2012 legislative session. Speaking to reporters and editors at the annual AP planning seminar, Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, and Rep. Ron Saunders, R-Key West, talked about redistricting, gambling, the budget and other topics.

Saunders predicted Republicans would unveil redistrict maps in the first couple weeks of the session, and that the first maps are likely to alienate some House GOP members because there aren't enough Republican voters in Florida to maintain their 81-member super-majority.

The veteran Key West lawmaker said a proposal to create destination gambling casinos in South Florida can't pass the House without significant Democratic support, because dozens of House Republicans are opposed to any more gambling in Florida.

Rich called it "incredibly disappointing" that Republicans are posed to make more cuts to programs while at the same time turning away federal grants, instead of evaluating Florida's tax structure.  Rich, who's considering running for governor in 2014, said she's on alert for "the right-wing social agenda" in the election-year session that opens Jan. 10, including a prayer-in-school bill and proposals to expand vouchers in schools.

-- Steve Bousquet