March 23, 2016

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.

 

March 15, 2016

Secretary of State: Florida election had 'few minor issues' that were 'resolved quickly'

Detzner

@ByKristenMClark

Florida's top elections official said the state's presidential primary election on Tuesday had a "few minor issues" but "those issues were resolved quickly and voters were not impacted."

"Overall, I think we had a very successful election," Secretary of State Ken Detzner told reporters in Tallahassee about a half-hour after the last polls closed in Florida.

Elections supervisors in Palm Beach, Orange and Duval counties reported some issues during the day, due to technical problems or voter confusion, Detzner said.

For instance, in Palm Beach County, Detzner said "some blogs" fueled unfounded rumors that GOP front-runner Donald Trump wasn't on the ballot.

Continue reading "Secretary of State: Florida election had 'few minor issues' that were 'resolved quickly'" »

February 29, 2016

National women's rights group backs Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race

Patrickmurphy03wmm

@ByKristenMClark

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy has picked up another significant national endorsement in his bid for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat.

NARAL Pro-Choice America announced this morning that they are backing the Jupiter Democrat over his primary opponent, fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando.

The endorsement is a big get for Murphy's campaign, because one of Grayson's major platforms is women's rights issues.

"Patrick Murphy has consistently fought to defend and expand Americans’ reproductive freedom and we are proud to stand with him in his race for U.S. Senate," Sasha Bruce, a senior vice president with NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement provided by Murphy's campaign.

Bruce called Murphy a "champion" and said he was "fearless in going up against the anti-choice majority in Congress and pushing back against the Republican-led smear campaign targeting Planned Parenthood and other health care providers."

Murphy said he'll be the fighter that he says Florida women need in the U.S. Senate.
 
"While my GOP opponents stand with Marco Rubio’s extreme opposition to ban all abortions with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, I will never back down when it comes to protecting women's healthcare and the right to choose," Murphy said.

Grayson and Murphy are duking it out ahead of the August Democratic primary.

The endorsement from the national women's rights group comes a week after Politico Florida reported that Grayson, as a lawyer, represented a company in the mid-1990s that was accused of discriminating against a pregnant worker.

Five candidates are running in the Republican primary: 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 Bradenton home-builder Carlos Beruff.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses might be continued through budget language

@ByKristenMClark

As legislation to make permanent the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program remains in limbo this session, Florida House and Senate leaders are floating the possibility of a one-year extension by including the program -- once again -- in proviso language for the annual budget.

The controversial program predictably surfaced as a point of leverage between House and Senate education leaders this weekend as they started hashing out the 2016-17 budget.

The bonuses are a priority for House Republicans, but senators in both parties are especially reluctant to buy in to the idea.

By Sunday evening, lead education budget negotiators Rep. Erik Fresen and Sen. Don Gaetz had agreed on the largest budget issue: how to fund increases to K-12 schools and by how much.

But the rest of the education budget remains unresolved.

The House rejected the first and only offer from the Senate, which included -- among a host of issues -- a proposed compromise on funding for the "Best and Brightest" program. The bonuses award "highly effective" teachers who scored in the top 20 percent on their high school SAT/ACT exams.

The offer from Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, was a broad this-for-that exchange of several priority areas, which was presented as "all or nothing" to the House.

Under Gaetz's offer, the Senate would have supported the House's desire to include the teacher bonus plan in the budget implementing bill -- allowing it to continue for a second year. The Senate would have also supported $22.5 million in funding, half the amount the House wants.

Continue reading "'Best & Brightest' teacher bonuses might be continued through budget language" »

February 23, 2016

In email blast, Harry Reid campaigns for Patrick Murphy

@ByKristenMClark

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, today began campaigning for Patrick Murphy in Florida's contentious U.S. Senate race and is doubling-down on his call for Murphy's Democratic opponent Alan Grayson to drop out.

Murphy and Grayson, both Florida congressmen, are competing in the August Democratic primary, and Reid has essentially endorsed Murphy. His political committee previously donated to Murphy and today Reid had this to say:

"We need strong leaders in the Senate -- middle class champions dedicated to working hard and getting things done. People like Patrick Murphy," Reid wrote in a campaign email sent out by Murphy's team this afternoon.

He added in reference to Grayson: "What we DON'T need is a disgraceful hedge fund manager masquerading as a 'progressive.'"

Grayson has been under fire -- and is the subject of a congressional ethics investigation -- for his management of hedge funds that were previously based in the Cayman Islands.

Reid two weeks ago issued a statement from his Senate office calling on Grayson to end his bid for Marco Rubio's Senate seat. In the Murphy campaign's email blast today, Reid repeated his statement and urged Murphy supporters to sign an online petition calling on Grayson to drop out of the race.

Grayson's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

February 19, 2016

Bloomberg reports Alan Grayson's family "profited from 'pariah state' gold mine"

U.S. Senate candidate and current U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, has made headlines this past week because of mounting controversy and criticism over a once-offshore hedge fund he has managed.

Bloomberg Politics is out today with a new report, this time about investments Grayson's children made. The news organization reports Grayson's children previously invested in -- and profited from -- a company that operates a mine in Eritrea, an African country that is accused of using slave labor.

From Bloomberg Politics:

Representative Alan Grayson holds an unusual position as a member of the U.S. Congress, an active investor and manager of a hedge fund.

Now that the wealthy Florida Democrat is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, his investments are becoming a more prominent liability.

Last year, Grayson, who was first elected to Congress in 2008, made a passionate speech denouncing trade with dictatorships or countries that employ forced labor.

But weeks earlier, his family cashed in a long-held investment in a mining company that derives its revenue almost entirely from Eritrea, an east African country labeled "a pariah state" by Human Rights Watch in part for its system of forced labor in service of a government that hasn’t held an election since 1991. Grayson said he wasn’t aware of the 2013 report criticizing the company.

The Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, has already called on Grayson to drop out of the race, charging that he used his role as a member of Congress to promote his own hedge fund and saying he appeared to have "no moral compass." 

Grayson, 57, is running against fellow Florida Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy, with a primary set for Aug. 30. On Sunday, Murphy also said Grayson should close his hedge fund and even resign if allegations made in the New York Times and the Tampa Bay Times were proved true that his roles as a member of Congress and hedge fund manager had become intertwined. Grayson has denied using his office for personal gain.

Asked last week about the investment in Nevsun Resources Ltd., Grayson says he wasn’t aware of concerns expressed by human rights groups about Nevsun’s mining operations in Eritrea before the stock was sold last year.

Full story here.

UPDATE: 9:55 a.m.

Murphy's campaign released a statement this morning calling on Grayson to donate to charity the profits his family made off its investments in Nevsun.

"Hedge fund manager Alan Grayson profited off of a company accused of using slave labor on a massive scale, and then sponsored legislation condemning those same practices. That kind of shameless hypocrisy is exactly what Floridians hate about Washington," Murphy campaign manager Josh Wolf said. "If Congressman Grayson still knows how to do the right thing, he should donate to charity every penny of his profit from the suffering of innocent people." 

Bloomberg Politics reported that Grayson said he "didn’t know" and "couldn’t have known" about this specific investment.

"If I had known, then I would have divested," Grayson told Bloomberg Politics. "I did actually divest, but I didn’t know when I divested, nor would I have any reason to know that, given the fact that literally thousands of different investments are involved, given the fact that nobody brought it to my attention until I’m in the midst of a competitive campaign."

February 18, 2016

Gaetz: Diaz de la Portilla 'stifled will of Senate' on open carry, 'promised and then reneged' on compromise

Florida Legislature(2)

@ByKristenMClark

State Sen. Don Gaetz said in a lengthy statement this evening that Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla "stretched" his authority as Judiciary Committee chairman and "stifled the will of the Senate to cast an up or down vote" on Gaetz's proposal to let people openly carry handguns in Florida.

Gaetz, a conservative Republican from Niceville, also accused Diaz de la Portilla of lying about his intentions to find a compromise on the highly controversial measure.

"I’m deeply disappointed," Gaetz said. "It is perfectly proper to vote against a bill. It reflects poorly on any chairman to fear the debate.

"The Judiciary Committee chairman promised and then reneged on a commitment to meet with me and other pro-Second Amendment legislators to try to negotiate differences in good faith," Gaetz added.

The more-moderate Diaz de la Portilla made it official Tuesday that he would not hear Gaetz's bill this session -- killing it as he has two other gun bills this year that sought to expand how and where more than 1.5 million people with concealed-weapons licenses in Florida can carry handguns.

Diaz de la Portilla said this evening that Gaetz was "disingenuous" with his criticism, because Gaetz himself is a committee chairman and former Senate president who understands the prerogative chairmen have.

"Senator Gaetz knows that committees chairs can’t possibly agenda every bill that is referred to their committee," Diaz de la Portilla said.

Gaetz acknowledged that Diaz de la Portilla is "technically within his rights as a chairman not to hear the bill."

Gaetz added: "I have faced the same question as Senator Diaz de la Portilla: Should I kill a bill that a majority of legislators want to debate, and perhaps pass, just because of my own personal preferences? In fact, I have faced that question on matters important to Senator Diaz de la Portilla and his constituents. The difference is I did not stretch my authority to stifle the will of the Senate to cast an up or down vote.

"Put simply, Senator Diaz de la Portilla used his power as a committee chairman to deny senators and the public the opportunity even to discuss the issue of open carry and vote for or against the bill," Gaetz said.

Current Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has supported Diaz de la Portilla's decision, though. Gardiner left it to Diaz de la Portilla to decide whether the open-carry bill and other contentious gun proposals would be heard, and he has been consistent in empowering other committee chairmen with that discretion, also.

Diaz de la Portilla said he and Gaetz "spoke briefly on the floor once" about open carry "and maybe on another occasion before that." He said Gaetz did not address his frustrations with him directly.

Gaetz said he believes his open-carry bill could have passed the full Senate "with the constructive amendments recommended by The Florida Police Chiefs Association."

But that's another point of disagreement between the senators.

The police chiefs' provisions -- which included requiring openly carried weapons to be holstered -- were added to the House version, which was sponsored by Gaetz's son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. (That bill passed the Republican-heavy House earlier this month.)

However, the Florida Sheriffs Association offered amendments of their own, which were rejected in the House and which Don Gaetz said he would have not wanted considered in the Senate.

The sheriffs' proposal would have gutted the bill. It wouldn't have allowed open carry but would have solely addressed a problem that the National Rifle Association said was its motive for seeking an open-carry law: the prosecution of people who inadvertently display concealed weapons.

Diaz de la Portilla said Thursday the sheriffs' proposal was "the only solution or compromise that I felt was workable."

"I did rack my brain trying to find a workable solution on the issue of open carry, but at the end of the day, it’s such lousy public policy and so dangerous for the state of Florida," he said. "You can’t fix something that is such terrible public policy."

Emphasizing Floridians' Second Amendment rights, Gaetz said his bill "would have allowed only those persons lawfully able to carry handguns to do so without concealment, without brandishing them, without violating private property rights and without allowing weapons in any place where they are now prohibited."

Diaz de la Portilla has said previously, though, he worried about "unintended consequences" of the legislation.

"Some things are such bad ideas that there’s no fixing them," he said Thursday. "Unfortunately, that’s the case with Senator Gaetz’s bad bill."

Photo credit: AP

Florida Senate confirms 10 agency heads appointed by Gov. Rick Scott

@ByKristenMClark

Without any debate or comment, Florida senators easily confirmed nearly a dozen agency heads this morning, endorsing appointments made by Republican Gov. Rick Scott and giving the executives job security going forward.

The Senate declined to confirm all 10 of them last year, so if they weren't confirmed this session, they'd be out of their jobs.

Those confirmed by the Senate Thursday were:

-- Julie Jones, Department of Corrections secretary

-- Mike Carroll, Department of Children and Families secretary

-- Barbara Palmer, Agency for Persons with Disabilities director

-- Sam Verghese, Department of Elder Affairs secretary

-- Christina Daly, Department of Juvenile Justice secretary

-- Rick Swearingen, Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner

-- Chad Poppell, Department of Management Services secretary

-- Ken Detzner, Secretary of State

-- Liz Dudek, Agency for Health Care Administration secretary

-- Ken Lawson, Department of Business and Professional Regulation secretary

The Senate voted, 35-0, to confirm them en masse; senators could record "no" votes on individual appointees with the chamber secretary.

All but Swearingen serve at Scott's pleasure. Swearingen serves at the pleasure of Scott and the Florida Cabinet.

Absent from the list of today's confirmations is Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong, who narrowly cleared his first committee this week and potentially faces more tough vetting before another, before the full Senate could consider his appointment.

Also this morning, the Senate confirmed 25 Scott appointees to governing boards overseeing Florida's state colleges and public universities, seven people to state boards, and another 70 people Scott appointed to local and regional boards and committees.

Among those local confirmations was Scott's former general counsel Pete Antonacci, whom Scott named executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.