April 05, 2016

AG Pam Bondi helps kick off annual Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics

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@ByKristenMClark

Bondi2_0405Joined by more than 300 law enforcement officers and Special Olympics athletes, Attorney General Pam Bondi helped mark the start of the 2016 Law Enforcement Torch Run today in the courtyard of the Florida Capitol.

About 8,000 law enforcement officers from across the state will take part in the 1,500-mile run that will wind through Florida over the next several weeks.

The torch will reach its home in Lake Buena Vista in time for the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics' Florida State Summer Games, which start May 20 at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports.

It's the 33rd year for the torch run.

"These children with intellectual disabilities are so inspired and they know that they can do anything, and this gives them hope," Bondi said. "It gives them courage, it gives them skills and it gives them confidence -- and that's why it's so important to us and our state."

The event has special meaning for Bondi, whose 11-year-old niece, Emma, has Down Syndrome. Bondi said Emma is too young to participate yet, but she hopes Emma will join her at the Olympics' opening ceremonies.

Bondi said more than 33,000 athletes, participating in 400 competitions annually, compete in Florida's Special Olympics.

Events for the torch run are planned in each of Florida's 67 counties. The full schedule is available here.

April 01, 2016

Florida DOC wants to hire 4,000 new corrections officers by July 2017

@ByKristenMClark

Facing ongoing vacancies and projected turnover, the Florida Department of Corrections announced today that it wants to hire more than 4,000 correctional officers statewide over the next 15 months.

The agency has about 1,300 vacancies at any given time and has struggled to maintain proper staffing levels across its dozens of facilities statewide.

“Properly staffing our institutions is critical to the safe and secure operations of our facilities. To ensure that our prisons are staffed appropriately, the Department is seeking more than 4,000 qualified individuals to proudly and bravely serve our state as correctional officers," DOC Secretary Julie Jones said in a statement today.

The agency aims to hire the officers between now and July 2017.

Jones added: "Our hiring efforts are focused on recruiting courageous, honorable and hardworking men and women to join our team and take on our mission to provide a continuum of services to meet the needs of those entrusted to our care, creating a safe and professional environment with the outcome of reduced victimization, safer communities and an emphasis on the premium of life.”

Check back later for more on this story from the Herald's Julie K. Brown.

Federal judge affirms gay marriage ban is unconstitutional after Florida officials resist compliance

@ByKristenMClark

Although gay marriage has been legal in Florida for more than a year and the law nationwide since last summer, a U.S. District Court judge ruled definitively this week that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Judge Robert L. Hinkle said that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and the state Legislature need to recognize that and also start treating same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples in all aspects of law.

Hinkle wrote that he was compelled to grant summary judgment in a long-standing lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s same-sex marriage ban because state officials have shown little, if any, inclination to accept and follow last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the implications of it.

“After the United States Supreme Court issued [its ruling], one might have expected immediate, unequivocal acceptance,” Hinkle wrote. “Not so for the State of Florida.”

More here.

March 31, 2016

After underage romance led to ‘sex offender’ tag, harsh sentence, Florida man freed early from prison

@ByKristenMClark

Carlos Manuel Delgado was released from Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City on Wednesday afternoon — 13 years, 4 months and 24 days before the end of his sentence.

Or, from the perspective of Republican Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Florida Cabinet: Delgado spent 11 years, 2 months and 17 days in prison because of what they call a miscarriage of justice that branded Delgado a “sex offender” for an atypical crime.

In a rare action, Florida’s top elected officials voted Tuesday to commute Delgado’s sentence and allow him to go free. This is only the fourth sentence commuted in the last five years, according to state records.

They described his case as an unjust consequence of a “stupid decision” and “mistake” Delgado made in 2000 that didn’t align with the truly abhorrent crimes that Florida’s sex offender laws are intended to punish.

Absorbing his first taste of freedom in more than a decade, Delgado on Wednesday afternoon was still trying to take in his changed circumstances.

“From the point that the police came to get me, it was surreal,” he told the Herald/Times in a phone interview. “It’s been really crazy. It’s been super unbelievable.”

More here.

March 25, 2016

Joe Biden to visit Miami on Monday, campaign for Patrick Murphy

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@ByKristenMClark

Vice President Joe Biden is expected to attend a lunchtime fundraiser with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy on Monday in Miami.

President Barack Obama and Biden endorsed the congressman from Jupiter earlier this month in the competitive race to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate next year.

At the time, Murphy’s campaign simultaneously said Biden and Murphy would “campaign together” in Florida on March 28. It’s unclear yet whether any public event will be held during Biden’s visit.

Biden last came to Miami in September for a speech at Miami Dade College about the importance of an affordable college education. (At the time, he had still been mulling a presidential bid but ultimately opted against one.)

It’s fitting that Murphy and Biden are appearing in South Florida, as opposed to elsewhere in the state. Murphy was born in Miami, raised in Key Largo and now represents northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast in Congress.

South Florida is also where almost a third of the state’s 4.5 million registered Democrats reside.

Ahead of the presidential primary this month, Broward County still had the most of any county with about 554,000 registered Democrats. Miami-Dade County was second with more than 525,000, followed by Murphy's home of Palm Beach County with 361,000, according to the Florida Department of State.

The 32-year-old Murphy joined Florida's competitive U.S. Senate race a year ago this past Wednesday.

Since then, he has racked up significant endorsements and campaign contributions from major Democrats in his primary fight against fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando. The primary election is Aug. 30.

Murphy has, so far, raised vastly more dollars than either Grayson or their five Republican opponents. As of Dec. 31, Murphy had raised $1.46 million, leaving him with nearly $4.3 million in the bank to spend heading into 2016.

Any dollars raised during Monday's fundraiser will be reported in the next campaign finance report that U.S. Senate candidates must file with the Federal Election Commission by April 15. That report will cover Jan. 1 through March 31.

The candidates running in the Republican primary are: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, U.S. Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox and Manatee County home-builder Carlos Beruff.

Miami Herald reporter Amy Sherman contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Al Diaz / Miami Herald

March 24, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott signs 34 bills, including body cameras, slungshots & dental carve-out

@ByKristenMClark and @MichaelAuslen

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed 34 bills into law today, including one requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies and training protocols for using officer-worn body cameras and another that makes it legal again for Floridians to carry concealed slungshots.

Scott also signed legislation carving out dental services from Medicaid managed care plans. It's a change supporters say will lower costs and better mirror the private insurance market, where medical coverage and dental coverage are generally provided by different insurers.

Currently, Medicaid recipients' dental coverage is from the same provider as their medical.

The bill requires a study by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability to assess the idea before it goes into effect, allowing lawmakers to come back to the table and change course if need be. In his letter approving the legislation, Scott issued a stern warning to lawmakers:

"While I am giving my approval to this bill today," he wrote, "if the results of the study do not demonstrate better quality dental care at reduced costs than the net benefits provided under Statewide Medicaid Managed Care today, I expect the 2017 Legislature to amend the statute immediately to protect Medicaid recipients and the services they receive through Statewide Medicaid Managed Care."

Meanwhile, the body-camera legislation (HB 93) sailed through the Legislature this session, garnering unanimous approval from both chambers. The new law doesn't require agencies to use body cameras but will ensure that those that do have proper procedures in place.

As of October, 18 police agencies in Florida — including Miami and Miami Beach — used body cameras. Another 10, such as Tampa police, were operating pilot programs.

“This bill gives us that opportunity to go further to make sure that we are providing transparency to our citizens but also give accountability to our law enforcement,” Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said after the legislation passed the House earlier this month.

The bill dealing with slungshots (HB 4009) lifts a ban on the manufacturing or sales of the weapon and allows individuals to carry it concealed without a permit. A slungshot -- which is a weight attached to a cord or strap -- was originally a maritime tool that later became a weapon used by gangs in the 19th century.

Other bills Scott signed today deal with various criminal justice issues, agriculture, education and public records exemptions, among other topics.

Here is the full list of new laws:

Continue reading "Gov. Rick Scott signs 34 bills, including body cameras, slungshots & dental carve-out" »

March 23, 2016

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown under investigation by House Ethics Committee

via @learyreports

The House Ethics Committee today said it has opened an investigation into Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville.

A letter released Wednesday states that the investigation includes “allegations that she engaged in improper conduct relating to certain outside organizations, including allegations that  she may have conspired with other persons in connection with fraudulent activity, improperly solicited charitable donations, used campaign funds for personal purposes, used official resources for impermissible non-official purposes, failed to comply with tax laws and made false statements, and/or failed to make required disclosures, to the House of Representatives and Federal Election Commission."

Read the notice here.

Federal investigators issued a subpoena to Brown in January and earlier this month the head of an organization tied to Brown pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Trump wades into issue of Hulk Hogan sex tape and libel law

The Hulk Hogan sex tape trial in St. Petersburg has captured presidential aspirant Donald Trump's attention in the arena of libel law.

The Tampa Bay Times' Katie Mettler takes a look:

If the trial over a secretly filmed celebrity sex tape involving gossip website Gawker, professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, Tampa radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and Bubba's model ex-wife, Heather, weren't enough, we can now add Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to this story.

On Monday, Trump mentioned the case in a conversation with the editorial board of The Washington Post.

About 17 minutes into the interview, Post publisher Frederick Ryan Jr., pressed Trump on an issue the businessman has touted repeatedly throughout his campaign: libel laws.

"Mr. Trump," Ryan began, according to a transcript, "you've mentioned many times during the campaign, in fact including this morning, instances you feel where the press has been biased or unfair or outright false in their reporting, and you've mentioned that you want to 'open up' the libel laws. You've said that several times."

Trump responded: "I might not have to, based on Gawker. Right?"

Wrong. Actually, very wrong.

Read more here

March 22, 2016

Florida Supreme Court to hear open-carry case in June

From the News Service of Florida:

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments June 8 in a challenge to a state law that bars people from openly carrying firearms.

Justices issued an order Monday scheduling the arguments in the challenge filed by Dale Norman, who was arrested in 2012 in Fort Pierce while openly carrying a gun in a holster. After a jury found Norman guilty of a misdemeanor charge, the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld the state law, ruling it does not violate constitutional rights to bear arms.

Norman then appealed to the Supreme Court, which said in October that it would take up the case.

During the legislative session that ended this month, lawmakers considered proposals that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry guns. But the measures did not pass.

March 18, 2016

South Florida Republicans break with GOP in deportation vote

@jamesmartinrose

Only five Republican lawmakers stood up to their party leader in voting against allowing House Speaker Paul Ryan to file an amicus brief opposing President Barack Obama's decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.

All three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo -- were among the five Republicans who voted against a resolution that the House passed Thursday almost entirely along party lines.

The Supreme Court next month will hear a case brought by Texas, joined by Florida and 24 other states, arguing that Obama's bid to shield about 5.2 million illegal aliens from deportation imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them.

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohioan John Boehner as speaker in October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court was unprecedented, but he insisted it was necessary to prevent executive overreach by Obama.

With no Democrats voting for the bill, Ryan and other Republicans said Obama's executive orders dating to 2012 amount to the president legislating immigration reform without going through Congress.

"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," Ryan said on the House floor. "I feel it is very necessary, though. In fact, I believe this is vital."

In a joint statement Friday, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress have the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so.

"All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others," the two Miami Republicans said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.

"For two long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented," Curbelo said.

"The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president's executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem," he said.

The two other Republicans who voted against the House resolution were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois. Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican and one of five other Cuban-Americans in Congress, voted for the measure, which passed by a 234-186 margin.

Among Florida's 24 other U.S. House members, 22 voted along party lines, with Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan failing to vote.

Nine other Florida Democrats voted against the measure, among them Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, a 4-4 decision after the scheduled April 18 arguments would uphold the lower courts' rulings and overturn Obama's executive orders protecting millions of undocumented parents and their children from deportation.

Obama on Wednesday chose Merrick Garland, a former federal prosecutor and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace Scalia on the high court, but Senate Republican leaders are refusing to take a vote or even hold hearings on the nomination, saying Obama has only 10 months left in office.

Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said have disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump's hardline stance on immigration.

"They keep saying, 'Well, Trump doesn't represent us, he doesn't (represent) our views, he doesn't represent our values,' and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from," Gutierrez told reporters. "Try the House of Republicans."

In a speech Friday on the House floor, Gutierrez accused his Republican colleagues of "stoking anti-immigrant fears and mass-deportation fantasies."

"The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party," he said.  

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama last week.

Before the vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said "the Latino community is being used for political purposes."

Sanchez added: "We are being demonized, we are being marginalized, and we see a frightening level of hateful rhetoric and vile hate speech aimed at our community, and nobody is standing up within the Republican Party to say that this is unacceptable."

America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote Thursday was the eighth "anti-immigration" vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.

In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.