June 13, 2016

After Orlando shooting, Sen. Bill Nelson pushes bill to prevent terror suspects from buying guns

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday joined fellow Democrats in pushing for a bill that would prevent terror suspects from obtaining guns and explosives.

The FBI, Nelson said, was "handicapped" in dealing with the Orlando shooter, who had been investigated before but the cases had closed. The "Denying Firearms And Explosives To Dangerous Terrorists Act" would ban people on a terrorist watch list from getting weapons.

Said Nelson: "If the FBI did not have to close those cases, could make a notation, then when that fellow went in last week to purchase an AR-15 and an automatic handgun, he would have come up on their radar."

<<< Politifact: "Terrorist watch list no obstacle to buying guns, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy says" >>>

The legislation, which Democrats noted began under President George W. Bush, came up last year and was defeated on a party-line vote. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the sponsor, said she hoped Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would support the legislation.

Nelson also said he was "disgusted" by some of the politics surrounding the shooting. "What we've got to do is come together as a country," he said. "That's the American spirit."

Democrats said it would be the first in a series of gun regulations they would push in light of Orlando.

Gov. Rick Scott speaks with former President Bush on Orlando shooting

In Orlando, Gov. Rick Scott received a phone call Monday morning from former President George W. Bush, his office announced. Scott's official Twitter account said:

"Thank you President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush for your call today. We appreciate your prayers."

Scott's office confirmed Monday that he has not heard from President Barack Obama since the massacre occurred. The president said at the White House Sunday that he has spoken with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

The president said Sunday: "This morning I spoke with my good friend, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and I conveyed the condolences of the entire American people.  This could have been any one of our communities.  So I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need -- they are going to get it.  As a country, we will be there for the people of Orlando today, tomorrow and for all the days to come."

Orlando shooting: Gov. Rick Scott requests federal emergency declaration

@ByKristenMClark

Following Sunday's deadly nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida Gov. Rick Scott this morning requested that President Barack Obama issue an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act "so that the full resources of the federal government can be made available for all those impacted by this horrific massacre."

"Yesterday’s terror attack was an attack on our state and entire nation," Scott said in a statement.

"I have remained in constant communication with federal, state and local law enforcement. I have spoken with our hospitals who are caring for those who are wounded and recovering. I have also been in contact with some of the victims’ families to let them know we are grieving with them and will be there for them every step of the way," Scott said. "Our state is mourning, but the Orlando community is strong. We are all coming together, and we will get through this together. I ask every American to continue to pray for our state and nation and all those affected by this terror attack."

Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera added: "We are devastated, angry and disgusted by the horrifying act of domestic terrorism that took place here in our state. I have been on the ground in Orlando, and the sense of community and love we see here is proof that we are a resilient people. We as Americans have shown and will continue to show that we cannot and will not be intimidated into changing our way of life by evil. The State of Florida has offered all resources available, and will continue to be in constant contact with all agencies involved. Our prayers are with those and their families devastated by last night’s act of terror, and we will be doing everything possible to support."

In a two-page letter to the White House and FEMA, Scott specifically requested emergency assistance in the form of "provision of health and safety measures" and "management, control and reduction of immediate threats to public health and safety."

Read the request here.

June 12, 2016

'This is our Paris': Florida U.S. Senate candidates react to Orlando nightclub shooting

@ByKristenMClark

The eight Republican and Democratic contenders for Florida's open U.S. Senate seat were quick to weigh in this morning on social media about the deadliest mass shooting in American history, which happened overnight at an Orlando nightclub.

Most offered measured responses for thoughts and prayers, while one spoke of her support for gun control and another laid definitive -- but yet unproven -- blame for the gunman's motive.

Republican candidate Carlos Beruff called the tragedy "an evil act of a radical Islamic terrorist in Orlando." He added: "Thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families this morning."

As of this morning, local, state and federal authorities were still investigating the gunman and his potential motives. He has been identified as Omar Mateen, of Port St. Lucie. He is of Afghan descent. Investigators are exploring whether Mateen could have been self-radicalized, or had connections to overseas terrorism groups, the Miami Herald reported.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Pam Keith, of Miami, tweeted in the wake of the shooting: "I will NEVER cease advocating for measures that will reduce the number of Americans who die from gun violence." (Along a similar vein, the Florida League of Women Voters issued a call to action this morning, demanding better gun control laws in Florida.)

Democratic candidate and current U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson -- whose Orlando-based district is a few miles away from the Pulse nightclub where the shooting occurred -- called it a "terrorist attack" and posted information on his Facebook page about grief counseling services available to Orlando-area residents and the need for blood donations.

In a statement, Grayson said: "Our thoughts and our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the entire Orlando community. Words cannot express the horror, pain and sadness that we feel about this terrible loss. I commend the Orlando police for their heroic efforts to save the lives of those who could be saved."

Republican Todd Wilcox, an Orlando businessman, said he was "holding my girls a little closer this morning."

"Prayers for those impacted by the unspeakable act of terror in our hometown of Orlando," he tweeted. 

Democratic Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy said he was "devastated by the news of the shooting in Orlando." Murphy represents northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, including Port St. Lucie where authorities say the gunman was from.

"My heart goes out to the victims, their friends and family, and all those affected by this horrifying tragedy, including those in the LGBT community," Murphy wrote on Facebook. "Orlando is stronger than this act of hate and evil. Thank you to our first responders for your brave and selfless actions." 

Republican Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. David Jolly, of Indian Shores, said: "This is our Paris. Let us never forget -- and let us always resolve to confront and defeat terror at the hands of evil."

Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera said: "Our prayers are with those and their families devastated by last night’s act of terror."

Added Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach: "My thoughts & prayers are with the victims, families & people of Orlando. Thanks to law enforcement who responded to this act of terror."

After Orlando shooting, Florida League of Women Voters calls for better gun control laws

@ByKristenMClark

Just hours after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history left at least 50 people dead and several dozen more injured at an Orlando nightclub on Sunday morning, the Florida League of Women Voters issued a call to action and demanded better gun control laws in the Sunshine State.

"The time for action is NOW. Guns kill people. That is a fact," read the email signed by league President Pamela Goodman. "Florida must be a leader NOW for necessary gun legislation.

"Call your Florida Representative and State Senator. We must have expanded background checks and extensive REQUIRED safety training for all permit holders," Goodman's message continued. "This is a public safety issue. We must all be responsible and take action for the safety of our citizens."

The email blast from the group was sent at 9:53 a.m., about five hours after the hostage situation ended at the Pulse nightclub and as authorities were still assessing the victims and investigating the gunman.

June 02, 2016

Florida's cost for same-sex marriage court fight: Nearly $500K

From Dara Kam at The News Service of Florida:

Florida taxpayers are on the hook for almost $500,000 in fees to lawyers who successfully challenged the state's prohibition against same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, who initially balked at paying the legal fees, has agreed to pay $280,000 to Jacksonville lawyers William Sheppard, Betsy White and Sam Jacobson, who represented two same-sex couples, according to documents filed in federal court on Wednesday.

Bondi's office last month agreed to pay $213,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which represented eight same-sex couples who were married in other states.

The settlements came after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in April that the lawyers in the consolidated cases were entitled to the fees, and nearly two years after Hinkle first ruled that Florida's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.

Hinkle put a stay on his August 2014 constitutional decision until January 2015, when same-sex marriages began in Florida.

A battle over the legal fees began last summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry. The Supreme Court ruling came in a case involving other states, but it cemented Hinkle's ruling that Florida's ban was unconstitutional.

Continue reading "Florida's cost for same-sex marriage court fight: Nearly $500K" »

May 18, 2016

Florida lawmaker wants AG opinion on feds’ transgender bathroom rules; Pam Bondi declines

Adkins_2015@ByKristenMClark

An outgoing conservative lawmaker in Florida who is running for Nassau County schools superintendent wants state Attorney General Pam Bondi to issue an official opinion on what she believes to be the "constitutional encroach" of the Obama administration's new guidance to public schools over transgender students' bathroom access.

State Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, called the president's new policy a "clear violation" of states' rights under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"It is clear that the Obama administration is once again circumventing the Congress and even its own federal rule-making process to impose new federal rules and laws on Florida’s public schools," Adkins said in a statement this morning.

MORE: Read Rep. Adkins' letter to Bondi

But Bondi’s office isn’t wading into the issue. Deputy Attorney General Kent J. Perez wrote in a response to Adkins on Wednesday afternoon: “We do not issue legal opinions on federal law.”

On Friday, the U.S. departments of Education and Justice sent letters of guidance to all public schools nationwide informing them that they must treat students in ways that match their gender identities -- or risk losing federal money under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in educational programs based on sex.

Republican leaders in Florida have been reluctant to comment so far on the new guidelines. But Adkins, the outgoing chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee, wants a swifter response: For the state to challenge the Obama administration's directive.

Read the full story here.

Published 10:49 a.m.; Updated 4:30 p.m.

May 16, 2016

Rep. Wilson to chair hearing on helping young people of color

@jamesmartinrose

Rep. Frederica Wilson on Tuesday will bring together lawmakers and youth experts from Florida and beyond for a congressional forum on expanding opportunities for black and Latino young people.

Michael Smith, special assistant to President Barack Obama and head of the White House My Brother's Keeper program, will moderate the forum. Wilson will be joined by Arnaldo Gonzalez, Miami-Dade Schools chief of growth and development, and education leaders from North Carolina, Virginia and other states.

Also speaking will be Albert Dotson Jr., a board member of 100 Black Men of America who helps run the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

"As the founder of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an in-school dropout prevention and mentoring program, I have experienced firsthand the powerful influence that a caring adult can have on a young person's life," Wilson, a third-term Democrat from Miami Gardens, said.

In February, Wilson helped launch the Congressional My Brother's Keeper Caucus. It now has 18 members, among them Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar; South Carolina's Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat; and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

When he started the My Brother's Keeper mentoring program in 2014, Obama drew criticism from some advocacy groups for excluding young women and girls. Wilson's hearing Tuesday will focus on expanding opportunities for male and female people of color.

 

 

 

 

May 11, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott will visit Capitol Hill to make pitch for Zika funding

@ByKristenMClark

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is headed to Washington, D.C., this afternoon to visit with eight members of Florida's congressional delegation.

The topic: Federal aid to prepare for and combat the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

"We've got to have a federal plan," Scott told reporters on Tuesday. "My job is to help get the state prepared and that is what this trip is to do."

MORE: Daily Florida Zika Virus Tracker

Scott's daily schedule includes meetings on Capitol Hill with only Republicans: U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, both of Miami, Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville, Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, Curt Clawson of Bonita Springs and David Jolly of Indian Shores, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

"It's going to get warmer, we're going to have more rainfall, we're probably going to see more mosquitoes in our state," Scott said Tuesday. "Our federal government has a variety of plans they're talking about. ... We've got to address the Zika issue. Hopefully, we can get ahead of it."

Scott did not specify what amount of funding or resources he's seeking from the federal government.

"We're working through our Department of Health and our mosquito boards -- whether it's more money for our mosquito boards, whether it's to make sure they have the right testing kits or to make sure, if we have a significant outbreak, do we have all of the resources?" he said.

As of Tuesday, the Florida DOH reported 109 known cases of Zika. All were travel-associated from people returning to the U.S. from other countries; no one had contracted the virus in Florida.

Scott said DOH continues to work with local mosquito boards to get ahead of the virus, and he said it's time for the federal government to step up.

"I think of it like a hurricane," Scott said. "The way you prepare for a hurricane is you get prepared and the federal government needs to come together, work together and provide the funding for the things that are necessary to our states."

April 28, 2016

Three Floridians among Obama nominees to federal district bench

@jamesmartinrose

President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated U.S. magistrate judges in Jacksonville and Ocala and a prominent Tampa lawyer for federal district court seats, adding their names to a backlog of dozens of judicial picks the Republican-controlled Senate has failed to confirm.

Obama named Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale of Jacksonville and Tampa white-collar defense attorney William F. Jung to the Middle District of Florida, and he chose Magistrate Judge Philip R. Lammens for the Northern District of Florida.

"There is a judicial emergency in the Middle District of Florida right now," Sen. Bill Nelson said. "Sen. Rubio and I have conferred on these three nominees, and even in this highly partisan environment, I'm hopeful that we can get them approved quickly."

Aides to Rubio confirmed that the two senators had worked together in recommending the Florida nominees to Obama.

Rubio, however, declined to say whether he would push for his Senate Republican colleagues to confirm them. Republicans are refusing to hold hearings or to vote on Obama's nomination last month of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

With 85 federal district seats unfilled nationwide, Florida has three of 28 vacancies deemed "emergency" by the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for federal courts overseen by the Supreme Court.

The emergency designation is based on a combination of the length of vacancy and how many cases are pending before a court.

Both seats that Obama moved to fill Thursday for the Middle District of Florida are among the 28 emergency vacancies, with one seat empty since June 30, 2015, and the second seat unfilled since August 1 of last year.

The Middle District of Florida had 9,401 cases in 2015, which is considered a heavy load. It stretches from south of Naples on the Gulf Coast to the Georgia border and includes Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.

Obama also nominated five other district judges to seats in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

"Throughout their careers, these nominees have displayed unwavering commitment to justice and integrity," Obama said of his eight choices for judicial promotion. "Their records are distinguished and impressive, and I am confident that they will serve the American people well from the United States District Court bench."

The Senate on April 11 unanimously confirmed Waverly Crenshaw Jr., an African-American lawyer from Nashville, Tenn., to a federal district judgeship.

The Senate confirmed just 17 of Obama's judicial nominees last year, the fewest since 1960.

Before becoming a U.S. magistrate judge in 2012, Lammens was a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville, the city's No. 2 attorney and a civil trial lawyer in the torts division of the U.S. Justice Department. He earned his law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida.

A U.S. magistrate judge since 2013, Barksdale also previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. She, too, has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Jung is a founding partner of the Jung & Sisco law firm in Ocala, specializing in white-collar criminal defense. He was a federal prosecutor in Miami in the late 1980s and clerked before that for then-Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. Jung received his law degree from the University of Illinois and his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University