December 21, 2016

Uncertainty in Florida's death penalty law yields fewer executions, sentences



The lingering uncertainty over Florida’s death penalty sentencing procedures in the past year has made the state a microcosm of nationwide trends, according to a new report from a national nonprofit research organization focused on capital punishment.

The annual year-end assessment from the Death Penalty Information Center, released Wednesday, finds that death-penalty sentences, executions and public support for capital punishment all continued to decline nationwide in 2016.

Similar results were seen in Florida, where one public opinion poll earlier this year showed Floridians favoring life sentences over executions and where administration of the death penalty has been effectively on hold since January, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Florida’s process for imposing death sentences.

“As a practical matter because of the unconstitutionality of the statute and the state Legislature’s failure to take appropriate precautions when it enacted a ‘fix’ in the statute, we ended up with the functional equivalent of no death penalty in Florida this year,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Florida Department of Corrections

December 19, 2016

Protestors to electors: 'Vote for sanity' and 'say no to Trump'

Electors protest 3


Fourteen-year-old Kathryn Plumb doesn’t want to grow up under a Donald Trump presidency.

“He goes back on his word and everything he says is untrustworthy,” Plumb said. “And the way he treats women is terrifying. As a kid, I don’t want to turn 18 and have him rule my teenage years or just be in charge of my life in general, because as a woman I can’t trust him to make decisions for me.”

That’s why Plumb and her mother, Leigh Touchton, traveled from their home in Valdosta, Georgia, to Florida’s Capitol on Monday and joined a couple hundred others in a demonstration to urge the state’s 29 electors to oppose the president-elect.

The formal Electoral College vote is at 2 p.m. but protesters began gathering at the Florida Capitol around 9:15 a.m., aiming to catch electors as they arrived and to make their case.

MORE: “Despite threats and lawsuits, Florida electors ready to vote for Donald Trump

Facing intense pressure from anti-Trump groups, none of Florida’s electors has publicly said they intend to change their vote and oppose Trump, and none is expected to. Many are loyal Trump supporters.

But the protesters in Tallahassee on Monday wanted to let the electors know they have allies if they do.

“We’re here today so we can show solidarity for those electors that want to vote against Trump and flip the vote,” said Maxwell Frost, of Orlando, who helped lead the demonstration as part of the group Democracy Spring, one of several groups organizing coordinated protests at state capitols nationwide on Monday.

“Not everyone is going to change their mind, that’s true — but we’re here for those who do want to change their mind,” Frost said.

More here.

Demonstrators want to persuade electors to switch votes, oppose Trump



An unknown number of protesters plans to rally at the Florida Capitol throughout the day today in the hopes of persuading the state's 29 electors to defy protocol and formally elect Democrat Hillary Clinton as president -- instead of Republican President-elect Donald Trump -- when members of the Electoral College convene this afternoon.

Demonstrators plan to gather starting at 9 a.m. and will continue until the electors cast their votes at 2 p.m. in the Florida Senate chamber.

"The idea is to be visible to electors so we can connect with them ahead of the vote and urge them to vote for the winner of the national popular vote," said Kait Sweeney, spokeswoman for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee -- one of several groups coordinating nationwide protests.

The protesters' efforts in Tallahassee aren't expected to be successful. Florida's electors have already been subjected to intense pressure by anti-Trump forces but none of the electors has publicly said they intend to change their vote.

MORE: "Florida elector Joe Negron calls anti-Trump fervor 'sour grapes'"

The Tallahassee protest is part of coordinated demonstrations at state Capitols across the country by groups calling themselves the "Dec. 19 Coalition." They who oppose Donald Trump and want to change the final outcome of the November election. (The groups in the coalition are Americans Take Action, the Electoral College Petition, and Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy Spring.)

The coalition argues that because Clinton earned a clear victory in the popular vote, the Electoral College should support her and not Trump. They also cite revelations about Russian influence in the election as another reason Trump shouldn't win the White House.

Trump won the majority of Electoral College votes needed (a minimum 270) by securing narrow victories in key Rust Belt states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

He won Florida, too, garnering 49 percent of the vote -- and 112,911 votes more than Clinton.

Still, the demonstrators are asking Florida's electors to defy what Florida voters decided in light of the national result.

"All electors have the Constitutional right to vote their conscience," Sweeney said in an email. "We're urging Florida's electors to respect the will of the American people and vote for the winner of the national popular vote. Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes and eked out a win in part thanks to Russia hacking our democracy and massive voter suppression."

November 09, 2016

High court seems open to Miami's plea for millions from banks for discriminatory housing loans



WASHINGTON Supreme Court justices appear receptive to Miami’s argument that it’s entitled to sue banks under federal discrimination law for the impact from racially discriminatory loans.

The case hinges on whether the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the last of the landmark civil rights laws, covers only the direct effects of discrimination or also covers indirect consequences, such as property tax losses and increased policing costs.

With a vacancy still unfilled from the death of Antonin Scalia last winter and with Justice Clarence Thomas maintaining his customary silence, the seven other justices grilled lawyers in a lively Election Day session Tuesday in which several also wondered whether the law’s protections might extend to anyone who suffers an indirect financial loss because of discriminatory mortgages.

During oral arguments, justices asked more questions of Neal Katyal, a former U.S. solicitor general who is representing the Bank of America and Wells Fargo in the case, than of Robert Peck, a Washington attorney for the city of Miami.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. appeared most skeptical of Miami’s claims, while Justice Elena Kagan targeted the banks’ arguments.

For more.

Read more here:

November 04, 2016

Outside money floods Rubio-Murphy race thanks to high court's Citizens United ruling

  Senate 2016 Rubio_Ordo (1)-082516

Individuals, corporations, advocacy groups and super-PACs from outside Florida are pumping money into the close Senate contest between incumbent Marco Rubio and challenger Patrick Murphy.

More than $48 million in independent expenditures, most of it from outside the Sunshine State, has been spent on the Rubio-Murphy race in which the Miami Republican has held about a 3 point lead in recent days, according to the polling average on

Only five other U.S. Senate campaigns -- in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio -- have received more money from outside their campaigns.

Every state except Nevada features incumbent GOP senators who, like Rubio, are trying to fend off Democratic challengers. Nevada's race is for an open Senate seat vacated by the retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Those six races will likely decide whether the Republican Party retains the Senate majority it gained in the November 2014 elections.

In addition to money contributed by outside groups, Rubio's campaign had raised $12.48 million through Oct. 19 while Murphy's campaign had raised $13.72 million, for a total of $26.2 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.

That figure combined with the independent expenditures puts an overall price tag of almost $75 million on the Rubio-Murphy Senate race.

In Florida's Senate race, outside groups have made 14 TV, media and digital ad buys totaling at least $1 million, all but one of them targeting Murphy.

The biggest buy was made by the Senate Leadership Fund on Oct. 27 for $3.16 million.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a spinoff of the American Crossroads super PAC started by former President George W. Bush senior adviser Karl Rove, has spent $81.7 million in the current election cycle.

Among all super PACs in the country, only the liberal Priorities USA Action and the conservative Right to Rise USA have spent more.

Other groups based outside Florida that have spent big against Murphy are the American Future Fund, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Republican Senate Committee and the National Rifle Association.

The only Florida-centric organization with significant expenditures opposing Murphy is the Florida First Project, a super PAC created in June on the day Rubio did an about-switch and announced he was running for Senate re-election after having declined during his earlier presidential bid.

So-called "super" political action committees are free to collect unlimited amounts of money as long as the donors' identities and the amounts of their contributions.

The flood of independent expenditures by super PACs has followed a landmark 2010 Supreme Court ruling, in a case brought by the conservative watchdog group Citizens United, that described such spending as expressions of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

However, direct contributions to political campaigns remain limited by campaign-finance law.

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press










October 09, 2016

President Obama signs new disaster declaration for Hurricane Matthew's impact in Florida


@ByKristenMClark & @JeremySWallace

President Barack Obama signed a new disaster declaration for Florida on Saturday, freeing up additional federal funding and resources to help with clean-up and recovery efforts after Hurricane Matthew.

The White House announced Obama's act early Sunday morning.

While Obama already granted a preliminary disaster declaration before the storm, a second one after the storm is required to trigger post-storm recovery funding.

The new declaration makes available federal funding to state and eligible local governments and certain non-profits on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in eight Florida counties. Those counties span the east coast from the Treasure Coast to northeast Florida -- areas which felt the brunt of Matthew in the state: Brevard, Duval, Flagler, Indian River, Nassau, St. Johns, St. Lucie and Volusia.

More here.


Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch, Bloomberg

October 06, 2016

Gov. Scott's office talking with FSU, U-F about Saturday football games


As Hurricane Matthew bears down on Florida with the potential for catastrophic damage to coastal areas, state and university officials are potentially re-evaluating a couple major college football games still scheduled for Saturday.

Rick Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the governor spoke directly today with Florida State University President John Thrasher about the status of the Seminoles' game against the University of Miami Hurricanes, where kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. in Miami Gardens.

Schutz said the governor did not express an opinion about whether the game should continue as planned, be cancelled or be relocated, rather Scott was "reaching out to learn more about the university's process" for making such a decision.

Schutz said staff in Scott's office have also been in touch with University of Miami officials, as well as officials at the University of Florida -- which is scheduled to play Louisiana State University at home in Gainesville at noon Saturday.

University leaders told Scott's office they would let the governor know soon about how they'll move forward with Saturday's games, Schutz said.

Earlier Thursday, Louisiana U.S. Sen. David Vitter tweeted that Scott should move the Florida-LSU game out of Gainesville, using the hashtags #CmonMan, #GeauxTigers and #StaySafe.

Gov. Scott: Half of available Florida National Guard activated for Hurricane Matthew


Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday activated another 2,000 National Guard members — making for 3,500 members activated as of the afternoon, about half of what is available for deployment, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said.

Activated members include both soldiers and airmen, with search and rescue teams awaiting Hurricane Matthew in West Palm Beach and Orlando, said Air Force Maj. Caitlin Brown of the Florida National Guard. Other troops were at Camp Blanding near Starke, Fla.

Scott has authorized the mobilization of up to 6,600 Guard, if need be, Schutz said. Brown said the Guard has nearly 2,500 “high water vehicles,” eight helicopters, 17 boats and more than 700 generators that could be used in emergency operations, she added. The Guard also evacuated its “F-15 fleet out of the path of the storm.”

"Protecting lives remains our No. 1 priority and that is why I have now activated over half of the National Guard who will play a big role in important life-saving missions," Scott said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "I have directed them to focus on prepositioning resources, assist with helping people evacuate safely and our sheltering operations.  In the immediate aftermath of the storm, they will be involved in recovery efforts including search and rescue missions.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also has high-water vehicles prepositioned across the state to help with these efforts."

"While the federal government has just approved our request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration for food, water and tarps, I am asking the President for additional generators and pumps to help with power outages and flooding once the storm hits," Scott added. "Following the most recent weather briefing from the National Hurricane Center, we can expect to have a lot of flooding, especially in Northeast Florida, and we will need additional pumping equipment from the federal government.”

Gov. Rick Scott on Hurricane Matthew: 'Unfortunately, this is going to kill people'

State at eoc 1006


As South Florida began to see squalls from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew on Thursday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t sugarcoat the danger that awaits coastal residents who don’t evacuate.

“This storm will kill you,” Scott said during a morning briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. If “you’re in an evacuation area, get out. Don’t take a chance.”

“Do not surf. Do not go to the beach. This will kill you,” he added.

More here.