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November 17, 2015

Jack Abramoff in Tallahassee: Draconian reforms needed to 'stop folks like me'

Abramoff book signing

Jack Abramoff, one of Washington’s most notorious former lobbyists, came to Tallahassee on Tuesday as part of his crusade against what he calls “the corrupting influence of money on public policy.”

He called out a constitutional amendment on solar energy backed by the state’s utilities, as “one of the oldest lobbyists’ tricks in the book” because it is “intended to confuse people” and detract the proponents of a rival amendment.

He detailed his tricks of the lobbying trade before he was convicted on federal fraud and tax evasion charges: buying goodwill from members of Congress with campaign contributions, sports and concert tickets, meals and golf outings and the promise of lucrative jobs to members of their staff.

And he called for “draconian reform” to “stop folks like me” — including the banning of any corporate interest, special interest or individual who wants to petition government on public policy from contributing any money to any elected official or political campaign.

“Lobbying was for me a series of political battles. Unfortunately, winning became everything. I stopped paying attention to the lines in the sand — the rules,” said Abramoff who pleaded guilty in Miami on Jan. 3, 2006 on charges stemming from his lobbying activities in Washington on behalf of Native American tribes, including steering millions to favored lawmakers.

Continue reading "Jack Abramoff in Tallahassee: Draconian reforms needed to 'stop folks like me'" »

Carlos Lopez-Cantera, son and grandson of refugees, says 'new threat' of infiltrated ISIS prompted push for Syrian refugee ban


The question over whether the U.S. should continue to accept Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris terror attacks has roiled politics -- and not just among 2016 presidential candidates.

U.S. Senate hopefuls in Florida have weighed in too, including Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who issued a statement Monday backing Gov. Rick Scott's push to keep Syrians out of the state. States don't have the authority to ban refugees, so Florida has asked Congress to step in. 

"We must use whatever power we have to refuse to accept these so-called refugees in our state," Lopez-Cantera's statement read in part. The phrase "so-called refugees" seemed to question whether any of the Syrian migrants were in fact fleeing prosecution. Some of them already in Florida have shared harrowing memories of escaping bombs in Syria.

Lopez-Cantera, a Miamian who is seeking presidential candidate Marco Rubio's Senate seat, has Cuban and Jewish ancestry. "I am the son and grandson of refugees," he said. (His maternal great-grandparents were Russian Jews who immigrated to New York around the turn of the last century, he said; his father is a Cuban immigrant.)

Yet he told the Miami Herald in an interview Tuesday that he came to his hard-line position on Syrian refugees after learning one of the Paris attackers entered Europe using a Syrian passport.

Continue reading "Carlos Lopez-Cantera, son and grandson of refugees, says 'new threat' of infiltrated ISIS prompted push for Syrian refugee ban" »

Drone liability bill narrowly advances in Florida Senate

Drones AP


Facing opposition from prominent business groups, a Florida Senate committee on Tuesday narrowly passed a proposal from a Miami Republican that would make Floridians who own or operate unmanned drones liable for the cost of any damage and injury they cause.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed an amended version of Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's measure by a 5-4 vote.

Drones have become increasingly more common for a variety of commercial and recreational uses. Senate Bill 642 would allow Floridians to recover costs from the owner or operator of a drone if "negligent operation" of the device caused them injury or damaged their property.

Lobbyists representing the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Retail Federation, the National Federation of Independent Business and other groups said Tuesday they can't support the bill in its amended form, because of where the proposed law would be placed in statute and because of the wording it contains.

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Bobby Jindal drops out of presidential race


Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal bowed out of the 2016 Republican presidential race Tuesday.

"This is not my time," Jindal told Fox News' Bret Baier. "I'm suspending my campaign for president of the United States."

He's the third candidate to drop out, after former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Jindal was barely registering in national polls and had little campaign money left.

Jindal conceded he had focused on drafting policy papers that attracted little interest from voters in a tumultuous campaign. Asked if he plans to endorse one of his rivals, Jindal insisted, "I haven't given that a lot of thought...I don't think people care."

He urged GOP voters to pick a bold nominee.

"It's not enough just to elect a Republican," Jindal said. "I want someone who has the courage and the smarts to do big changes."

Reaction from Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio:

Florida Senate takes step toward removing statue of Confederate general


Edmund Kirby Smith’s days in the U.S. Capitol Building appear to be numbered.

A Florida Senate committee on Tuesday took another step in removing the statue of Smith, who is depicted in one of two statues representing Florida in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Smith’s claim to fame is having been born in St. Augustine and was one of the last major commanding officers in the Confederate Army to surrender during the Civil War. Smith, a Lieutenant General fighting in Texas, did not surrender until June 2, 1865 in Galveston – nearly two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army in Virginia.

But as has been the case for weeks, sponsors of the legislation insisted their legislation is not a reaction to Smith being a Confederate soldier, but because Florida needs someone new and more representative of the state to be on display at the U.S. Capitol Building.

“The reality of it is, is that Kirby Smith had a very minimal impact on Florida,” state Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said.

Legg said as a high school history teacher, he would take students to the U.S. Capitol Building on trips and always thought Florida could have a better statue on display to demonstrate the state’s history.

“There’s so many people who had such an impact on Florida in the last 100 years,” Legg said.

Continue reading "Florida Senate takes step toward removing statue of Confederate general" »

AP: Jeb Bush open to letting properly vetted Syrian Muslims into U.S.

From the Associated Press:

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is making it clearer that his call for the U.S. refugee program to give preference to Christians fleeing Syria does not exclude Muslims.

His campaign says Bush supports accepting women and children regardless of their religion and does not exclude Syrian Muslims broadly, as long as the refugees can be effectively vetted.

President Barack Obama has rebuked what he called a "shameful" religious test in the refugee policies of some Republican candidates. Both Bush and Ted Cruz have said preference should be given to Syrian Christians.

Bush spokesman Tim Miller said Tuesday that Bush believes the refugee policy should favor women and children as well as persecuted Christian minorities, but no one should be allowed in when there is not enough information about them.

Miller said Bush does not believe the U.S. should eliminate support for refugees. He said Bush believes refugees are a "noble tradition in our country for decades," but that they should not be accepted "if there's any kind of concern" about their backgrounds or intention.

In an earlier address to business leaders during a South Carolina campaign swing, Bush called the struggle against the Islamic State group "the war of our time."

Miami-Dade leaders join hands in prayer with France's Miami consul general

French prayer


On Tuesday, Miami-Dade's county commissioners and mayor joined hands with the head of France's Miami consulate and prayed. 

Commission Chairman Jean Monestime, the first Haitian-American to hold the post, asked the entire chambers to join hands for the event, sparking an unusually intimate version of a pre-meeting prayer typically accompanied only with bowed heads.

Monestime and his fellow commissioners joined Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Philippe Létrilliart, France's Miami consul general, in linked hands as local pastor Joanem Floreal conducted the prayer. 

Following the prayer, "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, played on the chamber speakers before the meeting began. 

Photo caption: 

From left to right: Miami-Dade commissioners Daniella Levine Cava, Rebeca Sosa, Dennis Moss, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Consul General Philippe Létrilliart, Chairman Jean Monestime, and commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Barbara Jordan.  

Let Syrian refugees into U.S. only with strict vetting, Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy say

via @learyreports

The two leading Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate remain open to the U.S. accepting Syrian refugees but only with extensive vetting.

Rep. Alan Grayson "supports President Obama’s policy on accepting immigrants from Syria," spokesman Ken Scudder told the Tampa Bay Times. "Like the President, the Congressman feels that these refugees should be thoroughly vetted before being admitted into the U.S."

Rep. Patrick Murphy released a statement. "Our number one priority is always to keep the American people safe. We need incredibly tough safety and security requirements on any refugees entering our country in order to protect our nation. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am working closely with my colleagues and national security officials to make sure we prioritize the safety of all American citizens while still allowing America to be a beacon of freedom around the world."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Effort to repeal Florida's cohabitation ban moves in Florida Senate


A proposal to scrap Florida's 147-year-old ban on unwed men and women living together got unanimous approval during its first committee stop in the state Senate for the 2016 session.

Senate Bill 498 -- proposed by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood -- gets rid of the second-degree misdemeanor crime, which Sobel says 4.4 million Floridians are committing. The law is rarely enforced.

Sobel's bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

A House version of the repeal effort also got initial favor earlier this fall. That bill is sponsored by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee.

Unlike the House hearing in September, Tuesday's Senate committee hearing prompted no debate.

Only Florida, Michigan and Mississippi still have laws making cohabitation illegal. Eight other states that once had similar laws have repealed them.

Stiffer penalties for 'terroristic threats' approved by Florida House panel


People who make "terroristic threats" would face harsher penalties under a proposal that earned unanimous approval from the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday.

The plan from Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, would make it a third-degree felony for someone to threaten or cause terror and/or prompt the evacuation of a building, public place or public transportation facility.

A conviction would also result in the person having to pay the cost of the evacuation and any damages stemming from it.

While bomb threats are a felony, current law allows terroristic threats -- such as a threat of a school shooting -- to be prosecuted only as a misdemeanor under criminal mischief or disturbing-the-peace laws, Smith said.

"This bill recognizes the seriousness of these threats and provides appropriate criminal penalties for them - especially those that target our teachers, judges, law enforcement and others," Smith said.

The proposal is also supported by the Florida Police Benevolent Association and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

House Bill 257 now goes to the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

The Senate companion, sponsored by Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, has been referred to three committees, but no hearings have been scheduled yet.