November 27, 2015

Lawmakers seek to crack down on gas pump 'skimmers'


With the simple swipe of a credit card at a gas station pump, it’s become easier for identity thieves to steal customers’ information and rack up fraudulent charges in their names.

State Sen. Anitere Flores’ family knows this all too well; a close family member’s credit card information was stolen from a gas station “skimmer” two years ago in Miami, she said.

“Within hours, hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of charges — specifically gas station charges — were put on the card,” said Flores, R-Miami. “It was scary, but it was also a major inconvenience: canceling credit cards and changing account numbers. You shouldn’t have to go through all that just because you’re using the convenience of paying at the pump.”

With support from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Flores and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, want to crack down on the use of skimmers by requiring gas stations to have better security measures and by increasing the penalties for criminals convicted of credit card fraud.

Skimmers are devices that illegally capture and steal credit- and debit-card information. State inspectors in Putnam’s department have located and removed 161 skimmers statewide since March alone.

More here.

November 25, 2015

Grayson, Murphy are thankful for... your campaign donations


Not even national holidays are immune from being politicized.

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, the two leading candidates battling for the Democratic primary in Florida's U.S. Senate race -- U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson of Orlando and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter -- have both sent out fundraising emails to their supporters asking for donations of "$3 or more" because of the holiday.

Grayson's email on Tuesday, suiting his fiery, sometimes-combative personality, offers supporters the chance to "win a call from me to your most conservative relative on Thanksgiving."

"You know that Republican in your family who always tries to get into a political debate with you over Thanksgiving dinner? This year, they can argue with me instead," Grayson writes.

Meanwhile, this morning, Murphy's finance director released a fundraising pitch for Murphy -- intentionally or not, countering Grayson -- and pledging that "Thursday is off-limits" and that he has a "strict no-politics-on-Thanksgiving policy."

So instead, Murphy's campaign is asking his supporters to donate the day before -- so as not to infringe on the sanctity of the holiday, of course.

November 24, 2015

Miami mayor endorses Scott's $250M proposed reform for Enterprise Florida



Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is among the latest in a string of local and county officials across Florida who have signed a fill-in-the-blank press release from Gov. Rick Scott's office, backing his plan for $250 million in economic incentives to better attract jobs and businesses to Florida.

Scott sent letters to all Florida mayors earlier this month -- and later, also local and county council and commission members -- asking them to support his proposal to reform Enterprise Florida with the new "Florida Enterprise Fund."

Scott's plan is expected to face some resistance among his fellow Republicans in the Senate. The $250 million request triples the $85 million he requested this year for Enterprise Florida -- which lawmakers sliced in half in the current budget.

In announcing his support of Scott's plan, Regalado cited Enterprise Florida's role in "creating jobs in our community, such as HBO Latin America, LAN Airlines and Univision Network."

"These reforms will continue to diversify our local economy, empower our small businesses and create even more great jobs," Regalado said, reciting a canned quote provided by Scott's office.

Regalado, like Scott, is a Republican.

The most high-profile Democratic mayor to endorse Scott's pitch is Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, who announced his support last week.

Others in South Florida who have backed Scott's $250 million funding request include Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo Gort, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo and Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez (whom Scott's office two weeks ago originally misidentified as Miami's mayor before issuing a correct version of the press release).

Photo credit: Hector Gabino / El Nuevo Herald

Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr. asks Florida Supreme Court to stay execution


A death-row inmate facing execution in January for a murder in Pasco County 30 years ago is asking the Florida Supreme Court for a stay in the case and to grant a hearing so his attorneys can argue "newly discovered evidence," which a circuit court recently rejected.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed the death warrant for Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr., last month, scheduling his execution for Jan. 7.

Bolin killed three women in the Tampa Bay area in 1986. He was sentenced to death for two of them and is serving a life sentence on the third. The scheduled execution is for the murder of Teri Lynn Matthews, whom he abducted from the Land O' Lakes Post Office in the early morning hours of Dec. 5, 1986.

In a motion to the Supreme Court filed late Monday, Bolin's attorneys argue they have new evidence that needs to be heard, including that an Ohio inmate "confessed to having committed the murder." Download Filed_11-23-2015_Motion_Briefing_Schedule

A circuit court last month denied Bolin's request for an evidentiary hearing on the matter, reasoning that the "confession was not evidence of a magnitude that it would probably produce an acquittal or a sentence other than death if admitted at a retrial."

After Scott signed Bolin's death warrant, Bolin appealed his case once more to the Sixth Circuit Court, and on Friday, the court denied Bolin's motion for rehearing and a request to vacate the death sentence. 

Bolin was convicted of abducting Matthews and then bludgeoning her with a wooden club, spraying her with a water hose and loading her into a truck to dispose of her body. She was found wrapped in the sheet on the side of the road in Pasco County later that day with severe head injuries and stab wounds in her neck and body.

Bolin previously appealed his case to federal court but his petition was denied in 2013, and the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals also denied to review the case.

Bolin has been convicted of two other murders in Hillsborough County. He is currently sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of Stephanie Collins and is serving a life sentence for the 1986 murder of Natalie Holley.

Broward circuit judge charged with ethics violations


A Broward County circuit court judge is accused of multiple ethics violations, because he allegedly offered advice to an assistant public defender last spring and engaged in subsequent "inappropriate conduct" in reaction to that accusation.

The Florida Supreme Court announced this morning the Judicial Qualifications Commission's decision to bring formal charges against Judge John Patrick ContiniDownload Filed_11-23-2015_Notice_Formal_Charges

After learning of Contini's email to the public defender in March, the state attorney's office sought Contini's removal from the related case because they said his advice to the defendant's counsel negated his impartiality.

The state attorney's office appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals to have Contini removed, and a stay was placed on hundreds of Contini's criminal cases -- freezing their progress and leaving defendants in jail because Contini couldn't hear their cases.

Contini initially refused to step away. Then, in August, Contini asked for and was granted a transfer to the family court division, following a blow-up over his dispute with the state attorney's office, according to a report by the Sun-Sentinel.

The commission wrote that after Contini first appeared before the JQC's investigative panel, "(he) again breeched the judicial canons by exhibiting discourteous, impatient and undignified conduct" during court discussions of the state attorney's appeal.

For example, the commission said he repeatedly referred to attorneys handling the appeal as "idiots" and their work as "fraudulent," and he also called the Attorney General's position in the case as "a lie from the pit of hell."

"The events of this case have been broadcast in the local and regional news media, further amplifying the negative effect of your actions," the commission wrote.

The JQC said his actions "constitute inappropriate conduct" in violation of five canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Contini has 20 days to offer a written answer to the charges.

November 23, 2015

Under governor's plan, local taxpayers would bear most of $500M increase to K-12 education


One of Gov. Rick Scott's main initiatives in his 2016-17 proposal is more investments in education -- specifically $500 million he proposes to add to funding for K-12 public schools.

But Scott is getting swift blow-back from critics, because 85 percent of that extra funding would be shouldered not by the state, but through local property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay.

Of the $507.3 million suggested increase, $80 million -- or 15 percent -- is state dollars, while $427.3 million would come from the "required local effort."

In touting his proposal to make an "historic investment in education," Scott vows that Floridians' "will not see an increase in your millage rate."

However, that doesn't mean businesses and homeowners won't see a larger tax bill. As property values rebound statewide, the amount property owners pay in taxes also increases, even if the tax rate remains the same.

When reporters asked Scott about this Monday, he responded: "Property values, when they go up, that's good for us."

One senior Democrat in the Legislature accused Scott of caring "a lot more about corporations than he does the people of Florida," because Scott's other big initiative is a $1 billion tax cut, mostly benefiting businesses.

Continue reading "Under governor's plan, local taxpayers would bear most of $500M increase to K-12 education" »

Universities would bear half the cost to increase performance funding, under Rick Scott's budget proposal


In his 2016-17 budget proposal the Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott wants to continue holding the line on tuition for Florida's 12 public universities and 28 state colleges, while also devoting $120 million more toward performance-based funding for those institutions.

But half of the $100 million Scott wants to add to university performance incentives next year would actually come from the universities themselves.

Only $50 million of the proposed increase would come from new funding, while the other $50 million is proposed to come out of the 12 universities' base operating budgets.

Performance funding is doled out to each university based on how well each institution "performs" on 10 metrics, including average cost per graduate, percent of graduates employed or continuing education and the institution's six-year graduation rate.

Continue reading "Universities would bear half the cost to increase performance funding, under Rick Scott's budget proposal" »

November 20, 2015

Republicans want Florida education commissioner elected again



Two Republican lawmakers have filed bills seeking a constitutional amendment to make Florida's education commissioner an elected position once again and to do away with appointed citizens' oversight of the state public education system.

The proposal from Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, calls for restoring the education commissioner to the governor's cabinet and for re-designating the governor and the cabinet as the State Board of Education, starting in January 2019.

That's how leadership of Florida's education system used to be organized until 1998, when voters approved a constitutional amendment restructuring the cabinet and creating the State Board of Education. The commissioner is appointed by the state board, which is made up of seven members chosen by the governor.

There have been four education commissioners in the past five years. Current commissioner Pam Stewart ascended to the post in 2013, after former commissioner Tony Bennett resigned.

Continue reading "Republicans want Florida education commissioner elected again" »

November 19, 2015

Guns-on-campus proposal heads to Florida House floor

Guns AP


A controversial plan, backed by the National Rifle Association, that would allow guns on college and university campuses statewide is ready for Florida's 120 House members to vote on when they begin their 2016 session in January.

The proposal (House Bill 4001) from Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, made swift progress through three House committees this fall and cleared its final hurdle on Thursday, despite passionate objections from the higher education community and campus law enforcement.

The House Judiciary Committee easily approved the bill by 13-5 vote. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee -- a co-sponsor of the bill -- joined Republicans in supporting it. The panel's five other Democrats were opposed.

"Time and time again, we’ve seen shootings in gun-free zones, and I don’t believe that should be policy in the state of Florida," Steube said of his bill.

But university and college presidents and administrators, campus police chiefs, faculty and other education groups vehemently oppose allowing guns on campus. They said again Thursday that guns don't have any place in an environment that should be dedicated to learning, and that allowing campus-carry could make emergency situations even more chaotic.

The Senate companion bill (SB 68) -- sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker -- also has gained favor this fall in two committees: criminal justice and higher education. It awaits a third and final hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it stalled last year.

Continue reading "Guns-on-campus proposal heads to Florida House floor" »

November 18, 2015

Open-carry gun bill narrowly passes second Florida House panel



A plan endorsed by the National Rifle Association that would allow more than 1.4 million Floridians to openly carry firearms continues to garner support in the Republican-led Legislature, despite concerns from law enforcement groups and other critics about the absence of additional training or holstering requirements and other safeguards that they want included.

House Bill 163 -- sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- narrowly passed the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday by a 7-6 vote. Tampa Bay-area Republican Reps. Chris Latvala, of Clearwater, and Kathleen Peters, of South Pasadena, joined four Democrats in opposition.

Gaetz said the “urgency” in adopting the legislation is “to fully vindicate the Second Amendment and the rights that Floridians ought to enjoy.”

But Peters said the bill doesn't address concerns related to public safety and wouldn't expand any constitutional rights that Floridians don't already have. The proposal would let residents with concealed-weapons permits openly carry those weapons anywhere they’re legally allowed to carry concealed now.

"It doesn’t change who has the ability to bear arms," she said. "Our core responsibility is public safety, and are we truly allowing public safety when we allow someone to carry a gun when they’re walking down the street?"

Gaetz proposed several amendments to the bill -- which the committee approved -- in an effort to counter critics; the changes appeased some opponents, but not others. He said after the hearing that it's a "better bill" than before, but he admits there's more work to be done on it.

Continue reading "Open-carry gun bill narrowly passes second Florida House panel" »