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

October 27, 2011

PolitiFact checks Rep. Waldman's claim about packing heat

In the old days, before Oct. 1, 2011, when folks headed to the beach or a park in some Florida cities, local laws forbade them from strapping a gun to their bathing suit or bringing it along in the picnic basket.

But in the wake of the deadly shooting in Tucson, Florida legislators during the 2011 legislative session took up a slew of pro-gun laws and one -- House Bill 45 -- made it loud and clear that it's up to the state, not each individual city or local government, to set firearm laws. And that means holders of concealed weapons permits are free to bring that gun along with the sunblock and sandwiches to a local or state park.

State law doesn't allow permit holders to bring their guns everywhere -- in fact there's a long list that shows everywhere guns aren't allowed including: 

"Any meeting of the governing body of a county, public school district, municipality, or special district;"
"Any meeting of the Legislature or a committee thereof;"
"Any school, college, or professional athletic event not related to firearms;"
"Any elementary or secondary school facility or administration building.""Any place where the carrying of firearms is prohibited by federal law."

State Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, who voted against House Bill 45, wants to expand the restrictions, so he plans to file a bill to ban carrying guns in many local government buildings in Broward County. 

In an Oct. 24 posting on the political blog browardbeat.com, Waldman said: "You are prohibited from walking into the Capitol with a gun, but you can go after the County Commission or the School Board. It is the height of hypocrisy."

Waldman's words drew more than a dozen comments from readers and these caught our eye:

"Jimbo is wrong. It’s legal to bring your gun into the Capitol. It’s illegal to bring it into the chamber, hence the 2nd metal detectors before you enter…"

Another commenter wrote: "Maybe Jim should file a bill to allow guns into the Capitol, instead. Let’s see how the gun nuts go for that."

PolitiFact dives in: did Waldman misfire?

October 26, 2011

Broward Democrat sets sights on school board

With less than a year left until term limits force him out of state office, state Rep. Franklin Sands, a Weston Democrat, is setting his sights on the Broward County School Board.

Sands, a former State House Democratic Leader, announced on Wednesday his bid for one of two countywide at-large seats on the nine-member body.

The seat is currently held by Republican Katie Leach, an autism educator who was tapped by Gov. Rick Scott to fill the seat in September, following the abrupt resignation of former board member Jennifer Gottlieb. Leach, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, has said she plans on running next year for the District 4 seat currently held by Maureen Dinnen.

Sands, 71, who has six-grandchildren attending Broward public schools, said he decided to run because he believes his legislative experience will bring new "skill sets" to a board that has had to navigate through $171 million in budget cuts this school year.

"There's funding issues that are tremendously important," Sands said in a phone interview.  This year the state Legislature gutted education funding by $1 billion.

"We've got to readjust our thinking, and realize problems must be solved as part of a collaborative effort," Sands said. "No one person has all the answers."

So far, with election season a year away no one else has signed up to run for the at-large seat according to the Broward Supervisor of Elections website, but seven others have signed up to run for three district seats up for grabs.

October 03, 2011

Legislature OKs audit of city of Hollywood

TALLAHASSEE -- The Legislature on Monday approved a request by Sen. Eleanor Sobel to step in and audit the city of Hollywood's shaky finances. Sobel appeared at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee in the Capitol to ask for the audit, citing the city's declaration of a state of "financial urgency," a recent 11 percent property tax increase, lucrative pension and health benefits for city employees and overly optimistic revenue projections.

Sobel questioned the work of Munilytics, an Illinois-based financial consulting firm hired by the city. She also questioned the city's administrative set up, which she said separates the city's budget and finance departments, resulting in accountability problems. 

"An independent, unbiased additional set of eyes will promote greater responsibility, accountability and accuracy," Sobel,a former Hollywood city commissioner, told committee members. "My ultimate goal is to restore faith in our local government." 

Sobel's request for an audit was endorsed by a spokesman for the city's Police Benevolent Association chapter. The auditing panel is chaired by Sen. Jim Norman, a Tampa Republican.

-- Steve Bousquet   

August 10, 2011

Gov. Scott gets a mostly friendly reception from Broward legislators

Republican Gov. Rick Scott didn't face much heat from six legislators from Broward's delegation who showed up for his informal chat today at The Floridian diner in Fort Lauderdale. Broward can be unfriendly territory for the Republican governor -- the majority of the state legislators are Democrats and Democratic voters outnumber GOP voters two to one here.

The contingent that met with Scott today included two Republican representatives -- George Moraitis and Bill Hager -- and four Democrats: Sen. Eleanor Sobel and representatives Joe Gibbons, Ari Porth and Evan Jenne. Porth isn't exactly in a position to challenge the governor -- he interviews with Scott next week in hopes of an appointment to the Broward bench.

Sobel called on Scott to listen to different viewpoints and Gibbons argued that the state didn't do enough to grow jobs. While legislators raised some general concerns about adequately funding schools among other topics, they didn't press Scott for details about the state of the state or his future agenda. For example when Porth asked Scott for an update about a committee formed in the wake of the Miami Herald's Neglected to Death series about the state's lax oversight of assisted living facilities, he told Porth the committee had met and encouraged Porth to contact his office if he had ideas. Legislators didn't press Scott on whether he has a plan for ALF reform.

The biggest fireworks were between Gibbons and Hager about efforts toward job growth. Gibbons argued that during the session legislators spent too much time on bills that had nothing to do with jobs while Hager countered that the state lowered taxes and that "lowering taxes creates jobs."

Scott repeated familiar refrains -- offering parents school choice, reducing taxes and regulations to attract more businesses and job growth. The governor's informal gathering at the diner is part of his attempt to remake his public image -- he wore a shirt unbuttoned at the collar, shook hands in the main dining area and posed for a photo with a visitor on the sidewalk.



May 21, 2011

In session, few wins for Broward Democrats

The victories were few and far between in this year’s legislative session for Broward’s largely Democratic delegation in the Republican-dominated state Capitol.

Broward Democrats tried, with mixed success, to tone down sweeping legislation. And they had individual triumphs, including, notably, a long-sought effort by Sen. Nan Rich of Weston to outlaw sex with animals.

But outgunned by veto-proof GOP majorities in the Florida House and Senate, lawmakers in the minority Democratic Party could do little to slow or stop bills, or to push their own proposals. Instead, they focused on tweaking provisions within bills to make reforms more palatable to their constituencies in Broward, home to one the state’s largest number of Democrats.

All but two active members of the Broward delegation are Democrats.

Efforts by moderate Republicans and Democrats from Broward and elsewhere to stall and soften legislation were particularly apparent in the Senate.

Full story here.