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August 19, 2015

Guns, liquor, cash missing from evidence lockup in Miami-area police department

via @ChuckRabin @BrendaMedinar

For the past several years, random cops have had unfettered access to the Sweetwater Police Department’s evidence room. Signing a log sheet when entering or leaving wasn’t required. Cameras to record visits were broken or pointed the wrong way.

During that time, liquor bottles were mysteriously filled with only water, and tens of thousands of dollars disappeared. So did 19 weapons and 19 bicycles.

In all, 7,877 items that should have been safely tucked away in the small rectangular room down the hall from the chief’s office are missing, an audit by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found.

The audit also found that:

▪ Evidence was not logged properly or documented.

▪  There was an incomplete list of receipts and a lack of case numbers.

▪  And an internal control as simple as making certain two officers were present every time someone entered the room wasn’t enforced.

So far, there is no indication that missing evidence has harmed any prosecutions. But the findings place future cases in jeopardy, said Acting Sweetwater Police Chief Placido Diaz. And in at least one instance, Diaz said, a man who had more than $5,000 confiscated from him and has asked that it be returned isn’t getting his money back anytime soon.

More here.

Jeb Bush: Donald Trump is not conservative


Jeb Bush refined his line of attack against Donald Trump on Wednesday, arguing the celebrity presidential frontrunner is hardly the sort of Republican voters want in the White House.

"We're a conservative party, aren't we?" Bush said at a town hall-style event in Merrimack, New Hampshire. "Mr. Trump doesn't have a proven conservative record. He was a Democrat longer in the last decade than he was a Republican."

He rattled off a list of issues where Trump has changed his mind, including his support for a single-payer healthcare system most Republicans consider socialism, and painted him as a pro-government Democrat. 

"Let's support someone where we don't have to guess where he stands," Bush said, citing his own record as Florida governor.

The sharpened line was something Bush's campaign seemed proud of, quickly cutting a video clip of the candidate's answer and emailing it to reporters.


Bush emphasized the steep price tag of Trump's plan to deport immigrants in the country illegally and called Trump's language on the subject "pretty vitriolic" -- even suggesting it was un-American for Trump to want to deny citizenship to U.S.-born children of immigrants already in the country illegally. Bush has criticized women who come to the U.S. solely to give birth to "anchor babies."

It was Bush who brought up Trump's name after a voter obliquely referred to the celebrity rival. Bush said it was OK to name him, and called Trump the frontrunner.

The Donald himself was holding a town hall of his own at the same time in Derry, New Hampshire, about 10 miles away.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio spokesman Alex Conant got in this on Twitter -- which looked like a jab at Bush but Conant said was intended only at Trump, who said incorrectly that Rubio planned TV ads against him:

Senate Democrats want their own lawyers in remapping fights

Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, issued a formal request Wednesday for separate legal representation for the Democratic minority in the ongoing redistricting battle. In a letter to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Joyner said Senate Democrats have become "increasingly concerned with the ability of the Senate's legal counsel to render impartial advice and guidance."

Joyner noted that the lawyers advising the Senate on a Supreme Court-ordered remapping of congressional districts, George Meros and former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero III, are the same lawyers who defended the Senate Republican majority during a series of legal challenges to the map. Her letter emphasized that the need for a Democratic legal team will be even more urgent in October when the Senate redraws a map of Senate districts that GOP leaders have acknowledged was unconstitutionally gerrymandered.

"It's difficult to serve two masters with different goals," Joyner wrote. "Such dual roles are troubling to Democratic members as they seek equal and impartial advice and representation, particularly as the Senate maps begin to take shape."

Eight of the 14 Senate Democrats voted no Wednesday on a Senate congressional map that the House is now considering. Democrats tried without success to amend the Senate map to address concerns in Tallahassee and all three counties in South Florida. Their amendments were rejected on voice votes. Two Broward Democrats voted for the Senate map, Sens. Jeremy Ring and Eleanor Sobel, and the other four were absent.

Taxpayers are on the hook for more than $8 million in legal fees in the three-year legal fight over Florida's redrawn districts. "It is not my intention to add a single dime to the reapportionment tab," Joyner told Gardiner, "but this court decision wasa not of our doing, and the current attorneys were never retained with our input."

Joyner cited several prior cases in which the Senate minority was provided with separate taxpayer-funded legal representation, including during the 2000 presidential recount.

Gardiner's spokeswoman, Katherine Betta, said he was reviewing the letter and had no immediate comment.

A peek inside Jeb Bush's Iowa campaign office


via @learyreports

DES MOINES -- "The only hangup I have with Jeb Bush is he's already had a father and brother as president. It's the family business. It's enough of a problem that I'm not even going to look at him."

That's Jonn Nebbe, 44, who was at the Iowa State Fair on Wednesday to see Rick Perry take the Des Moines Register soapbox.

The dynasty problem is not hard to find in Iowa, nor are disappoinitng poll numbers. But Jeb Bush's team is kicking into gear. Bush spent more than four hours at the fair on Friday, and not far away his office in West Des Moines is up and running, already hosting phone banking and organizing Saturday door knocking sessions.

On Thursday, Bush's son, George P. Bush, will attend the opening of the east Iowa headquarters in Cedar Rapids.

Marco Rubio was supposed to open his HQ in Ankeny Wednesday but canceled, citing his kids' first day of school. A visit to the office this afternoon revealed a work in progress.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Miami Beach commissioner slams TV reporter in newspaper ad bought by PAC


via @joeflech

Controversial political committee Relentless for Progress has bought its first attack ad, but it’s not directed at any candidates.

Amid a swirl of angst surrounding the new powerhouse political committee in Miami Beach, the Beach commissioner leading the PAC took out a full-page in Wednesday’s Miami Herald to defend his group and rip his critics.

Relentless for Progress, the much-discussed PAC chaired by Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, has made headlines and drawn criticism for raising more than $1 million in three months from a smattering of prominent Beach developers, vendors and lobbyists. The county ethics commission is investigating the matter.

But on Wednesday, Wolfson fired off a lengthy missive in an advertisement on the back page of the Herald’s A section where he took aim at one of the PAC’s most notable critics, local veteran political journalist Michael Putney, who wrote an op-ed in the Herald slamming Wolfson and Mayor Philip Levine for soliciting donations from companies who have business with the city.

Putney accused Wolfson of wanting to rescind a $15 million city grant given to Mount Sinai Medical Center because the hospital would not donate to the committee.

On Wednesday, Wolfson fired back.

More here.

The John Kasich threat to Jeb Bush


via @adamsmithtimes

PETERBOROUGH, N.H. -- Forget the bombastic Donald. What Republicans really need to win back the White House is someone who has successfully governed a mega swing state, a straight talker who might sometimes tick off the GOP’s base but has proven how a conservative problem-solver can have broad appeal.

If that sounds like an argument for Jeb Bush, think again.

It’s Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a late entrant into the crowded Republican presidential field, who could pose a real problem for the former Florida governor if he keeps winning over the pragmatic Republican voters that Bush is banking on to deliver him the nomination.

Kasich (pronounced KAY-sik) is virtually tied with Bush in New Hampshire polls — the average compiled by has Trump with 24.5 percent support, Bush at 11 percent, Kasich at 10, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 7.5 — after the well-received debate performance earlier this month.

“Thank God for Donald Trump. Twenty-four million people tuned in to see,” Kasich quipped at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last week.

If you divide the Republican primary field into lanes — religious conservative, anti-establishment, arch-conservative — Bush, 62, and Kasich, 63, clearly occupy the center-right, establishment lane. They are largely competing for the same voters, and in Peterborough it was easy to see the big opening Bush has left for Kasich.

“I’ve really got to see more enthusiasm from [Bush]. I just don’t know that he’s got his heart in it yet. Maybe he will, but it doesn’t feel like he’s that interested in running,” said Diane Loomis, a bookkeeper in Hancock, who said Kasich impressed her much more with his enthusiasm, intellect and experience.

Judith Wilkins of Greenville is most interested in Kasich or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, because Bush has turned her off: “He is so intelligent, but I want to shake him and tell him, ‘How about some strength, some emoting.’”

More here.

Photo credit: Jim Cole, Associated Press

Venezuelan president publicizes video naming Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as anti-government protest financiers


On Tuesday night, Marco Rubio was flying back to Miami from a presidential campaign trip to Iowa. Meantime, his name was being invoked on state-run television -- in Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro publicized a video in which an accused murderer claims last year's protests against the Venezuelan government were financed in part by Rubio and another Miami Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Both politicians denounced the allegations as absurd.

Prisoner José Rafael Pérez Venta offers no details in the video about how much money was involved or how it was obtained, other than the say it came through a woman he identified as Betti Grossi, according to a Spanish-language report by the EFE news agency.

Pérez Venta also claims ties to Maduro's political opponents in Venezuela, and says further financing for protests came from a U.S. embassy worker and from the government of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Uribe, Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen are vocal Maduro critics.

The video is of a purported interrogation in which an off-screen interrogator whose voice has been distorted asks questions to Pérez Venta, who has been accused with dismembering a woman whose body parts were find on the side of a Caracas road. Venezuela is one of the world's most dangerous countries.

Continue reading "Venezuelan president publicizes video naming Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as anti-government protest financiers" »

Health officials: We haven't backed down on Planned Parenthood abortions


In response to reports that Gov. Rick Scott's Agency for Health Care Administration was backing down from its legal battle with Planned Parenthood over allegedly illegal abortions at three clinics, officials sent a letter Wednesday saying they will continue their investigations.

The latest letter from AHCA general counsel Stuart Williams to Planned Parenthood attorney Julie Gallagher says that the agency still believes the clinics performed abortions for which they were not licensed, despite an earlier letter that led Planned Parenthood to drop its request that a judge intervene to stop license sanctions from going forward.

"Your client, Planned Parenthood, continues to misrepresent to the media that AHCA has changed its position, and Planned Parenthood clinics in Florida may now provide unauthorized second trimester abortions. This is false," the letter says.

A letter sent Tuesday and later released to the public says that AHCA considers abortions performed in the first 14 weeks after the last normal menstrual period to be in the first trimester, consitent with state regulations.

Planned Parenthood clinics in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers, which only have licenses for first-trimester abortions, were accused Aug. 5 by AHCA of performing procedures in the second trimester of pregnancies. The pregnancies in question were performed in the 13th week.

Neither Planned Parenthood nor AHCA had an immediate comment on the latest letter, but earlier today, Planned Parenthood issued a statement after releasing the earlier letter. In it, Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said, “AHCA has agreed – as we have maintained all along – that, as long as the procedures performed are within 14 weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period, they do not exceed the authority under our licenses.”

It continues, “The public does not want elected officials spending time and money looking into bogus claims that are just part of a political agenda."

Senate passes congressional redistrict plan


The Florida Senate overwhelmingly passed a Congressional Redistricting plan on Wednesday, but the 12-day special session is far from over.

That’s because the plan adopted 28-8 is vastly different than a rival redistricting plan the Florida House passed out on Tuesday.

That leaves the House and the Senate with the task of working out a compromise before the close of the special session on Friday. State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he’d reach out to Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, later today to start working on a plan that can pass both chambers. Galvano is the chairman of the Senate’s redistricting committee and Oliva is the chairman for the House’s.

The biggest differences between the maps center in the Tampa Bay region, with portions of eastern Hillsborough and Sarasota handled vastly differently. In the Senate plan all of Hillsborough County south of the Alafia River would be in the 15th Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. But the House version has that entire region – about 150,000 people - instead in the 16thCongressional District represented now U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. Currently that area is split between U.S. Reps Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

The House map also would split Sarasota County in half, with the northern portion remaining in Buchanan’s district, but the southern portion put into Rooney’s district.

The Legislature is in the 10th day of the special session aimed at redrawing the state’s 27 Congressional Districts. Earlier this summer, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 8 of the state’s congressional districts violated the state constitution prohibiting districts from being drawn to benefit incumbents or political parties.

Before the Senate passed its plan, they rejected three other proposed changes, including one that would have shifted 35,000 voters in Miami-Dade into the 26th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. But both the House and Senate plans have those areas moving into the 27th Congressional District, which is represented by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.

Jeb Bush wrestles with Common Core: Higher standards yes, federal government no

via @lesleyclark

Jeb Bush on Wednesday sought to put space between himself and his support for controversial Common Core education standards -- but said all states need to set high bars for students.

The standards -- and Bush’s support -- have been a sticking point for conservatives who fear a federal role in education, but Bush said Wednesday at an education forum that standards are critical.

“The debate needs to be about real accountability, school choice, high standards - if people don’t like Common Core, fine - just make sure your standards are much higher than the ones you had before,” Bush said. “We can’t keep dumbing down standards.”

Pressed on how states could determine whether they have high standards if there is not an overall standard, Bush acknowledged: "It's not like pornography where you know it when you see it, but clearly low standards, you know it. That's what most states have had.”

Bush went on to say the federal government should have “nothing to say” about the standards -- a move that earned applause from the New Hampshire audience.

Continue reading "Jeb Bush wrestles with Common Core: Higher standards yes, federal government no" »