December 17, 2015

Florida state colleges want $74M to improve campus security

Miami-dade's wolfson campus


Regardless of what happens to a controversial plan to allow guns on Florida's 40 state college and public university campuses, college presidents say they want to take steps to make their campuses safer.

The Council of Presidents voted Thursday morning to ask the Legislature to fund a $74 million, three-year plan to beef up campus security and pay for training, other resources and equipment at the 28 colleges.

The request -- which wasn't previously part of the college system's budget request -- is $37 million (or 50 percent of the total) for 2016-17 and $18.5 million for each of the following two years.

The guns-on-campus bills moving in the Legislature brought to light the need to "recognize and offer alternatives -- through this investment -- to address the campus security problem short of arming our students," Michael Brawer, executive director of the Association of Florida Colleges, said during the council's conference call meeting Thursday morning.

"It’s what we think we have to do to minimize damages as it relates to the whole new world we live in and the potential for active shooters," agreed Carol Probstfeld, president of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.

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December 16, 2015

Study: Despite declines, Florida uses death penalty more than many states



Although Florida saw a drop in 2015 in both the number of death-row inmates executed and the number of criminals sentenced to death, findings from a national nonprofit research organization show the Sunshine State continues to be an “outlier” in its administration of capital punishment.

The year-end report from the Death Penalty Information Center, released Wednesday, highlights Florida and a handful of other states for bucking national trends that reflect growing disfavor among Americans toward the death penalty.

Nationwide in 2015, executions dropped to their lowest level in 24 years, and the number of new death sentences imposed fell sharply from already historic lows, the center found.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have outlawed the death penalty, while another 12 haven’t executed anyone in nine years or longer, the center said.

“We’re seeing that the death penalty as a whole is being imposed much less frequently, and when it’s being imposed, it’s being imposed by an increasingly isolated group of states and counties,” said Robert Dunham, the center’s executive director. “When we talk about the death penalty being a product of outlier practices or geographically isolated, Florida is a perfect example.”

More here.

December 14, 2015

Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Leander Shaw dies

Leander Shaw-Chief Justice_1990


Former Florida Chief Justice Leander J. Shaw, Jr. -- the state's first African-American chief justice -- died early Monday morning after a lengthy illness, according a statement from the Florida Supreme Court.

He was 85.

Shaw was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in 1983 by then-Gov. Bob Graham. He was the second African-American to serve on the state's top bench and the first chosen after Supreme Court elections were eliminated in the wake of corruption scandals during the 1970s.

In 1990, he became chief justice, serving in that role until 1992. He left the bench in 2003 after reaching the mandatory retirement age.

“Justice Shaw served Florida with dedication and distinction, first as a lawyer and then as a member of Florida’s highest court for two decades,” Chief Justice Jorge Labarga said in a statement. "Leander Shaw was one of a handful of judges, who helped restore the public’s faith in the Supreme Court and who transformed it into one of the most respected courts in the nation. This was no small feat after the scandals of the 1970s."

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'Gun safety' proposal includes harsher penalties for permit violations


A Broward County Democrat has filed legislation for the 2016 session that's intended to promote gun safety by mandating more training for concealed-weapons permit-holders and requiring them to declare they're carrying when approached by any police officer or other first-responder.

In a statement Monday, Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, said her proposal protects Floridians’ Second Amendment rights while also enhancing the responsibilities of citizens who exercise that right using concealed weapons permits.

“This bill would provide a safety measure for the permit-holder licensee as well as the law enforcement officer,” Clarke-Reed said. “This respects our citizens’ constitutional rights and makes all of us more accountable.”

But House Bill 935 is likely to be met with some resistance from gun-rights advocates. It also would impose harsher penalties for permit-holders who fail to disclose that they're carrying or who fail to present their conceal-carry license "when approached by or upon demand by a first-responder." (First-responders include police, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians.)

The proposal would drastically increase the fine for violating those requirements to $1,000 (from $25), and it calls for suspending or revoking a gun-owner's conceal-carry license if they violate that provision a second time.

Among the enhanced training requirements, the bill would require permit-holders to take a firearms course that includes "a minimum of six hours of certified firearm training and six hours of gun safety education."

The bill was filed Friday. It has not been referred to any committees yet and it has no Senate companion, a necessity for it to have a chance at becoming law.

Nearly 1.5 million people -- including 204,000 out-of-state residents -- have permits to carry concealed weapons in Florida.

December 10, 2015

South Florida water managers cut back on public comment


If you've got something to say to the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District, talk fast.

On Thursday, the board unveiled a new policy that cuts back on public comment. Rather than give speakers three minutes to address the board as each issue - often technical stuff loaded with politics and science - is discussed, public speakers now get only one shot at addressing the board. For three minutes. Total.

That did not go over well with regular attendees, mostly environmentalists, who often drive many miles to reach the West Palm Beach headquarters for a district spread over 16 counties.

When her turn came and board chairman Dan O'Keefe refused to extend the three-minute limit, Tropical Audubon Executive Director Laura Reynolds gave up and walked away. Reynolds had hoped to talk about worsening conditions in Florida Bay, where at least 40,000 acres of dead seagrass are raising concerns about an algae bloom. Second on her list was sea rise and the district's efforts to analyze aging flood control structures not designed to deal with a six to 12-inch rise projected over the next 15 years.

"I was trying to give them a heads up and provide them with important data and input," Reynolds later texted. "I drove all the way up there and he could not even give me time to bring Miami-Dade issues to the public hearing."

Drew Martin, conservation chair for the Sierra Club's Loxahatchee Group and a regular speaker, said the board needs to hear from the public.

"I don’t think the public has taken up that much of your time at most meetings," he said.

Tabitha Cale, an Everglades policy analyst for the National Audubon Society, called the decision "really frustrating and disappointing to see from a state agency."

O'Keefe said he was willing to reconsider the policy if any "robust" issues warrant longer comments.

"Nothing is set in stone and I’m going to look at how our resources are managed and time is managed."

December 09, 2015

Miami-Dade judge who swore at store clerk scolded by Supreme Court



The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday scolded a Miami-Dade County judge, who last year told a store owner to “go f--- yourself” in the midst of a heated re-election campaign.

As part of the punishment for her judicial misconduct, Jacqueline Schwartz appeared before the justices for a formal reprimand — the last of several disciplinary measures taken against her.

Reading from prepared remarks, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga admonished Schwartz for her use of “one of the worst profanities known to the English language,” which he said violated the public’s trust in her.

In June 2014, Schwartz cussed at a convenience store owner in a dispute over an oversized campaign sign Schwartz’s opponent had put up at a Coconut Grove Kwik Stop before the primary election.

Schwartz lost her temper and also threatened to sue store owner Firas Hussein after he refused to let Schwartz put up her campaign sign as well. Schwartz, whose courtroom is in Hialeah, was later reelected.

She was also chastised for violating judicial codes by interfering with the official court record in a separate case. She made notes in the margins of original court documents, then later asked her bailiff to erase them when an attorney requested certified copies of the documents with her notations.

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December 08, 2015

AG Pam Bondi reacts to Seminole gaming compact proposal

@MaryEllenKlas @ByKristenMClark

Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office has authority over the enforcement of the state's gaming laws, said she hadn't yet read the proposed compact between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe and couldn't say whether the tribe is currently violating the law.

"I want to read the compact and see what the expansion is," Bondi told reporters Tuesday. "My goal is for Florida not to become Atlantic City; I've always said that. I don't want a casino on Longboat Key, where I grew up, and all of our beaches in the Panhandle. That's been my greatest concern, obviously. But I'd like to look at the compact and see how extensive it is."

As the tribe continues to operate black jack and other banked card games at its Hard Rock casinos and three other of its properties despite the fact that the provision authorizing those games expired in July, Bondi couldn't say if the operation of those games is illegal.

"I need to look at the compact and see what it says,'' she said. "We tried to download it this morning so I could look at it and couldn't, because obviously this happened late last night. I'm not dodging your question; I just haven't looked at it."

December 04, 2015

Senate budget panel preparing alternative ways to boost dollars for K-12 education

Don gaetz


The chairman in charge of crafting the Senate's education budget proposal signaled again Thursday that Florida Gov. Rick Scott's plan to increase K-12 education dollars primarily off the checkbooks of local taxpayers isn't going to fly.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is preparing his fellow senators to consider other options including ones that would require a greater share of state support -- something that's not likely to be met well by Scott, who's also seeking a $1 billion tax cut in 2016-17.

The initial presentation by Gaetz came as no surprise. The former school board member and elected school superintendent in Okaloosa County has been critical of Scott's intentions dating back to September, when Department of Education officials first broached the idea with their legislative funding request.

Scott's proposed budget, released last week, goes farther than that original ask. As one of his core priorities, along with the tax cuts, Scott aims to boost funding for K-12 schools by more than $500 million.

But only $80 million of that is extra state dollars, while $427.3 million -- or 85 percent -- would come out of property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay, revenue that’s increasing thanks to rebounding property values.

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Debate over proposed FSA cut scores hinges on definitions


How best to set proposed "cut scores," or passing rates, for the new Florida Standards Assessments continues to divide state Board of Education members and state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

The board plans to set the cut scores in January and continues to debate whether the scores should be set higher than what Stewart recommends -- which would make it more difficult for students to pass the statewide assessment.

During the board's monthly meeting Friday, held via conference call, Vice-Chairman John Padget continued to push for stricter scores that are more in line with the National Assessments of Educational Progress, a nationwide assessment given to only a sampling of students in every state.

Padget called it "unconscionable" that considerably more students would be considered "proficient" under the proposed FSA cut scores than they are under the NAEP.

Officials at the Department of Education have cautioned that no two standardized tests are the same, whether in subject matter or grading.

Rather, Stewart -- who stands by her recommended cut scores -- said the state needs to do a better job of explaining what the cut scores actually mean to parents and students.

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December 03, 2015

Florida Senate could consider stand-your-ground changes in January


Proposed changes that strengthen Florida's “stand your ground” law are headed to the full Florida Senate in January, after passing a third and final committee hearing Thursday.

But the new version of Senate Bill 344, which was endorsed unanimously by the Senate Rules Committee, is more tempered than previous drafts due to a sweeping amendment offered by chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

The compromise is intended to make the proposal more palatable to critics. Gun-rights advocates -- such as the National Rifle Association and Florida Carry -- said they "can live with" the changes but preferred the original version, which offered defendants even greater protection from prosecution.

The bill filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, shifted the burden of proof in a preliminary hearing to prosecutors, requiring them to show "beyond a reasonable doubt" why a defendant is not entitled to a stand-your-ground defense.

The revised bill keeps that shift but requires prosecutors to prove only "clear and convincing evidence" -- a lower threshold.

"There are reasons a prosecutor shouldn’t have to bear the burden beyond all reasonable doubt in a preliminary hearing because there are unforeseen and complicated circumstances of doing that," Simmons said, citing double-jeopardy implications as one example.

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