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.

March 04, 2011

Thurston predicts win in House Democrat leader race

The vote takes place next Tuesday on the opening day of the 2011 legislative session. But Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, is boldly predicting he'll be elected the next leader of the House Democratic caucus in a race with a fellow Broward Democrat, Rep. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach. 

"It's going extremely well," Thurston says. "We're well over the number that we need -- at least 25." (The House Democrats currently number 38, so it takes 20 votes to win).

Gibbons wasn't so bold to predict victory. He acknowledges that Thurston had a head start on him (Thurston came within two votes of defeating Rep. Ron Saunders of Key West in the last leadership race two years ago. 

"Some people had committed to Perry early," Gibbons says. "I'm telling them, 'Hey, man, it's a secret ballot.'"

Whoever wins will have his work cut out for him. The task of raising money and recruiting candidates is sure to be complicated by the fact that the 2012 elections are following reapportionment, meaning all of the districts will be different, yet the recruiting will have to begin before the final district lines are decided.  

-- Steve Bousquet

January 12, 2011

State Rep. Sands to run Dem Party's South Florida office

State Rep. Franklin Sands (D-Weston) will head up a new yet to be opened South Florida office for the Florida Democratic Party, chairman Rod Smith said in an interview today.

Several details have to be worked out including Sands' title, pay and office location though Smith said the office will likely be in northern Dade or southern Broward. Sands will focus on the voter-rich counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

Smith said the state party will open a similar office in the Orlando area but he doesn't have a person picked to run that office yet.

The party shouldn't wait until just before elections to open offices and needs a more permanent presence to build relationships with activists and do training, Smith said.

We asked: why have a white guy head up a South Florida office when Broward's future is minority majority? Smith said he approached Sands, a former minority leader, about the position because he "knows the the donor base, he knows the constituent base, he knows the electeds." And he said the party will do voter outreach to black and and Hispanic communities.

Sands narrowly lost a Weston City Commission race in 1997 and a state legislative primary to Roger Wishner in 2002. In 2004, he had no Democratic primary for a state house seat and spent about $200,000 while his Republican opponent spent about $4,000. The former owner of a jewelry business, Sands lost millions of dollars in the Bernie Madoff scandal.

December 14, 2010

Scott listens to Broward but reveals little on his own budget-cutting ideas

Republican elect Gov. Rick Scott brought his listening tour to Fort Lauderdale today where he huddled for about an hour with Democratic and Republican legislators from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

The meeting was held just hours before the state was expected to release new figures showing a budget shortfall that could be as high as $3.8 billion. But in the meeting with legislators and in a brief gaggle with reporters after Scott provided no new details regarding how he'll whack the budget and deliver on his goal of cutting property taxes 19 percent.

When we asked after the meeting if he is considering employee layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts and cuts to specific departments, he replied back with general phrases such as planning to "streamline government" and look at programs.

Legislators made their pleas ranging from boosting public education to encouraging the Legislature to steer away from issues such as stem cell research and focus on creating jobs. Scott listened more than he talked and acted almost like a teacher -- at times not stating his own opinion but asking legislators questions such as "what do you think about tenure?" "What was your perception of Senate Bill 6?"

The most interesting exchange was between Democratic state Rep. Jim Waldman who asked Scott how he plans to cut property taxes 19 percent and what that will mean for local communities' abilities to provide schools and pay for police officers and firefighters.

"I don't really know at this point how you figure to make up for those services that everybody is already cutting," Waldman said.

"All savings are at the state level," Scott replied. "We're not changing how much we send to the counties." Later Scott added: "my goal is not to change funding for public schools. My goal is finding funding at the state level."

In an interview after the meeting Waldman said that Scott's answer "made no sense."

"I walked out with no clarity on anything," he said.

Legislators or those who will take office soon in attendance included Democrats Perry Thurston, Marty Kiar, Jim Waldman, Richard Steinberg and Lori Berman as well as Republicans Jeanette Nunez, Eddy Gonzalez, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and George Moraitis.





December 09, 2010

GOP fundraiser to plead guilty

A prominent Broward County ophthalmologist who raised millions for Republicans and once advised Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to plead guilty Thursday to scheming to bilk the U.S. government -- including failing to report $82,000 in political donations secretly given to a former state senator.

Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, 52, is scheduled to plead in Fort Lauderdale federal court to a single conspiracy charge, which also accuses him of lying to federal agents. He is eligible to receive about two years in prison under sentencing guidelines, but his lawyers plan to seek significantly less punishment from U.S. District Judge William Zloch.

Although the ex-senator is not identified in Mendelsohn's plea agreement, sources familiar with the case said the former politician is Mandy Dawson, a Broward Democrat. She has not been charged in the Justice Department's four-year corruption investigation into Mendelsohn and state officials.

April 20, 2010

House votes to add homeless to hate crimes categories

After about 30 minutes of emotional debate, the House voted 80-28 to add homeless people to the list of people protected under the hate crimes act. Under that law, if someone is attacked because they are a member of a protected class -- for their race, gender or disability -- the punishment is enhanced.

Debate seemed to be moving smoothly until Rep. Paige Kreegel, a Republican from Punta Gorda, asked sponsoring Rep. Ari Porth a series of pointed questions about the need for the bill, at one point derisively referring to the homeless as "bums."

Porth, D-Coral Springs, fended off the questions with about 20 Democrats standing silently behind him. During a series of emotional speeches that followed, Rep. J.C. Planas, R-Miami, referred to a 2006 video of a group of Broward teens brutally attacking three homeless people with baseball bats: "It is disgusting. It's something this state should be ashamed of."

Said Porth: "Nobody is more vulnerable. They have no place to retreat to. They don't have a home to retreat to and be safe in."