November 10, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Dominguez takes over as regional director of external affairs in Miami

Alex Dominguez has been named the new regional director of external affairs for the city of Miami and South Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. Domingues previously served as the director of the Miami-Dade County Legislative Delegation. 

He has also had roles as the director of fundraising and membership development for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, the South Florida political coordinator for the Florida Association of Realtors and he was a Florida House Legislative Fellow.

In his position, Dominguez will handle legislative and community affairs initiatives. He will also assist with new technology deployment and infrastructure investment.

On the bench

Judge Rodolfo Ruiz II and Jason Bloch have been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to Miami-Dade County's Eleventh Judicial Circuit.

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November 06, 2014

Bipartisan coalition to push for ban against anti-gay and LGBT discrimination in the workplace

Looking ahead to the 2015 legislative session, Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce has hired a team of bipartisan political operatives to push for a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

President Obama's top 2012 Florida strategist, Ashley Walker, will be campaign manager of the coalition. She'll be joined by longtime Republican lobbyist TowsonFraser, who was communications director for former House Speaker Allan Bense; Ann Herberger, a Miami-based Republican fundraiser and an advisor to former Gov. Jeb Bush; and Christina Johnson, a Tallahassee public relations executive who worked with the Republican Party of Florida and the Republican National Committee.

Johnson said she's not aware of any new legislation banning anti-gay and gender discrimination being filed yet for the 2015 session.

A bill to eliminate sexual orientation and gender identity, supported by Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce, failed to pass the 2014 legislature.

The House version was sponsored by Rep. Holly Merrill Raschein, a Key Largo Republican, and Rep. Joe Saunders, an openly gay Democrat from Orlando, who was defeated on Election Day. A Senate version of the measure was sponsored by Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington.

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October 29, 2014

Marijuana supporters blast latest web ad from opponents

With less than a week until the election, supporters and opponents of Amendment 2, which would allow marijuana for medical use, are still waging a fierce battle to sway voters.

Amendment 2 advocates, United for Care, is blasting the latest salvo from the Drug Free Florida Committee. The political action committee on Wednesday launched a web ad featuring Polk County Sheriff Gray Judd.

Judd's message is that Amendment 2 "gives teens legal access to pot. Make no mistake. Teen drug use will rise. They don't call Amendment 2 the pot for teens amendment but they should."

United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara responded with a press release stating that "medical marijuana opponents have decided they can't win by telling the truth. You don't have to take my word for it - independent, objective observers have clearly demonstrated that the claims made by the No on 2 campaign are untruthful.

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October 27, 2014

Report: Florida leads nation in disenfranchising offenders released from prison

The Sentencing Project has released a report showing that Florida has the highest felony disenfranchisement rate in the country, another issue dividing Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist.

In 2011, Scott and the Cabinet imposed strict new barriers on felons who want to regain the right to vote, tossing out a streamlined policy adopted in 2007 by Crist and a different Cabinet. The discarded policy allowed tens of thousands of nonviolent offenders to regain their civil rights without a time-consuming application and hearing process. Murders and sex offenders were not eligible for faster review under the system approved by Crist and the Cabinet in 2007.

The current policy requires felons to wait at least five years after completing their sentences before applying for civil rights and during that wait they can't have been arrested. Certain classes of violent felons will have to wait seven years to apply.

In the four years under Crist's reforms, 154,000 people had their rights restored, The Tampa Bay Times reported. In the three years under the Scott-era changes, that number has slid to under 1,000 as of mid January.

Here's the Sentencing Project's report:

Washington, DC - As the 2014 midterm elections approach, an estimated 5.85 million Americans will be unable to exercise their voting rights due to a felony conviction. Overall, 75% of disenfranchised individuals are no longer incarcerated. Of this population, 2.6 million have completed their sentences, yet remain disenfranchised in the 12 states with the most restrictive policies.

This year, disenfranchisement policies may affect the outcomes of U.S. elections, with a disproportionate impact on communities of color. One in every 13 black adults will be left without a voice in this year's electoral process. Black Americans of voting age are four times more likely to lose their voting rights than the rest of the adult population. More than one in five black adults is disenfranchised in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia.

The following 10 states hold the highest disenfranchisement rates in the United States:

Florida - 10.4%

Mississippi - 8.3%

Kentucky - 7.4%

Virginia - 7.3%

Alabama - 7.2%

Tennessee - 7.1%

Wyoming - 6.0%

Nevada - 4.2%

Arizona - 4.2%

Georgia 3.8%


Movers & Shakers

New leadership for Senate Democratic Office: David Cox, previously a senior legislative analyst for House Democrats and a former newspaper reporter, will be jumping into a new role as staff director of the Florida Senate Democratic Office on Nov. 1st.

"David is a wonderful addition to the office staff," Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, said in a press release. "His energy and knowledge of the legislative process will not only benefit our Democratic members, but the Senate as well."

Cox, a University of Florida graduate, began working for the House in 2005. His journalistic career includes covering state government and the legislature for The Tampa Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel, among other publications. He also worked as a member of the Florida State University's media relations team.

Another role for DOH administrator: Paul Myers has been named the interim deputy secretary for statewide services for the Florida Department of Health. He's taking over the role from C. Meade Grigg, who is retiring.

Myers, who was most recently administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County, started working at the DOH in 1988 as an environmental health director. He has an undergraduate and master's degree from the University of Florida.

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October 09, 2014

Public records made available, but at a whopping $132,348

 State agencies often charge for public records, but one news organization encountered sticker shock when it received the bill for its request. Florida's 17th judicial circuit court charged the Center for Public Integrity $132,348 for records regarding the procedures and policies surrounding foreclosure cases last summer

A story from the investigative news organization states that Alexandra Rieman, general counsel for the circuit that includes Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, said the public records request would require staff to sort through 149,000 emails. That, in turn, would require 2,500 staff member hours at rates of either $45 or $53 an hour, which added up to the $132,348 figure.

And whatever records the court system did provide would cost another 15 cents a page, Rieman added, without including estimates of staffer hours and hourly rates.

The Center for Public Integrity refused to pay that amount, calling the fees excessive.

Here's the story from the Center:

Charging high fees for access to public information can undermine public records laws and serve as a back-door way for government agencies to avoid releasing information they want kept private. Florida's laws and the state courts' rules allow, but don't require, the courts to charge for such records searches.

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October 08, 2014

Florida's hangup: High cell phone fees and taxes

If you think you're forking over too much of your paycheck to pay your cell phone bill, you're not imagining things.

Florida has the fourth highest average state-local cell phone tax and fee rate in the country at 16.55 percent, according to a study by the Washington-D.C.-based Tax Foundation.

"If you add in the 5.82% federal rate, Floridians are actually paying 22.38% of their wireless bill in taxes fees on average. The U.S. average combined federal, state, and local rate is 17.05%," according to the group's press release.

 Gov. Rick Scott is now promising that he will give Florida voters a $120 million annual reduction in the communications services tax, which collects revenue from a variety of sources, including cell phones. Lowering cell phone fees has been a state budgetary consideration in the past, but the effort hasn't gone anywhere. 

The Tax Foundation reports the following highlights of its study:

* The five states with the highest state-local rates are: Washington State (18.6 percent), Nebraska (18.48 percent), New York (17.74 percent), Florida (16.55 percent), and Illinois (15.81 percent).

* The five states with the lowest state-local rates are: Oregon (1.76 percent), Nevada (1.86 percent), Idaho (2.62 percent), Montana (6.00 percent), and West Virginia (6.15 percent).

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Survey: Public lacks information on amendments, rates state badly for health care for seniors

A majority of Floridians believe the passage of a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana will lead to recreational use, according to the latest report from the Sunshine State Survey. But most of those surveyed said they didn't get enough information about proposed amendments or only heard one side.

The survey, administered by the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs and Nielsen, also offers Floridians' views on health care, race relations, elections and transportation.

Some of the findings:

* Fifty-four percent of survey participants rated the state's provision of health care to seniors and its assistance of the state's mentally and physically disabled as just fair or poor.

*Of the five reasons listed for not voting, "not eligible" was the prime reason given, though the number of those who cited ineligibility decreased from 48 percent in 2011 to 28 percent in 2014.

*Sixty-three percent of resondents said the state is doing a fair or poor job of improving race relations compared to those who said the state is doing an excellent job (5 percent) or good (24 percent). 

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October 07, 2014

ACLU to federal judge: Lift stay and allow same-sex couples to wed

The ACLU of Florida on Tuesday filed a brief asking U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle to lift his stay and immediately allow gay marriage in Florida.

“In light of yesterday’s pathbreaking development, Plaintiffs respectfully submit that the Court should lift the stay immediately,” ACLU lawyers wrote to Hinkle, who on Aug. 21 in Tallahassee ruled Florida’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

Hinkle said in August he would stay his ruling until after “the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the pending applications, at that time, from Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia,” according to ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court settled the gay marriage issue in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, along with Wisconsin and Indiana, when it announced justices would let stand federal court decisons allowing same-sex marriages in those states.


October 06, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Update on the Status of Women: Melissa Hagan has been appointed by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Hagan and her husband, Aaron, own Emerald Coast Interview Consulting, and she recently served as chief development Ooficer for Gulf Coast State College. Hagan, of Lynn Haven, is a former teacher, curriculum designer and caseworker for at-risk youth.

The Commission, established in 1991, makes recommendations to the legislature, governor and cabinet on issues affecting women.

Her term starts immediately and expires Oct. 1, 2017.

Connie Mack IV joins public relations firm:  The former Florida congressman and state representative has joined Levick, a Washington D.C.-based public relations & communications firm, as an executive vice president.

Mack will also lead Levick's expansion into Florida and will open the firm's Miami office.

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