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February 04, 2016

Ban red-light cameras? Florida Senate panel advances proposal


Above objections from local police chiefs and city and county officials, Florida lawmakers are advancing legislation to outlaw red-light cameras statewide.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, argues the devices -- which capture infractions and later result in sometimes costly tickets for motorists -- have "essentially no safety benefit" and he said they serve to do little more than line local governments' pockets with extra revenue.

"It’s a backdoor tax increase on citizens who often can't afford to pay it, and you’re making intersections less safe," Brandes said.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, agreed: "I don’t like the cash-register they’ve become either."

Brandes' bill (SB 168) to ban red-light cameras and prohibit local governments from using them got its first approval by a Senate committee Thursday morning, with Democrats opposed.

In the House, the effort is a little more bipartisan, with Reps. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, and Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, pushing HB 4027 together. They have a press conference scheduled for this afternoon to discuss their proposal. It received its first favorable vote two weeks ago, also with some Democratic opposition.

The state legalized red-light cameras in 2010.

But a growing number of municipalities -- including North Miami Beach and, recently, Gulfport near Tampa -- have voted to turn off their cameras or have stopped using the devices altogether in the face of public backlash, lawsuits and court rulings that found the devices could violate constitutional rights.

Last year, the Florida Supreme Court declined to take up an appeals court's ruling on a lawsuit challenging how the city of Hollywood used red-light tickets to enforce traffic laws in Broward County. The court said the city's outside private vendor had, "for all practical purposes," the power to decide which motorists were ticketed, when the city bears that responsibility.

Responding to Brandes' desire to outlaw the devices statewide, Democrats on the Senate Transportation Committee objected Thursday to what they called "an expansion of pre-emption" by the state and they questioned the validity of state data that Brandes presented to demonstrate proven increases in accidents because of the devices.

"It’s working in Orange County. We’ve seen people alter their behavior once they get a citation for running a red light," Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said "I personally think they work," citing his own experience getting a ticket, which he said deterred future infractions.

But he said cities should have the power to decide for themselves. That is what cities want, too.

The Florida League of Cities isn't weighing in on whether using the cameras is good or bad. The group does "support the ability of cities to use that tool" as a public-safety measure, said Scott Dudley, the league's legislative director.

In regards to Brandes calling it a hidden tax, Dudley countered: "It’s a hidden tax that can be easily avoided by not running a red light."

He said the larger traffic safety problem is cellphones and distracted driving.

"That’s really what the Legislature should be looking at," Dudley said.

Brandes ended the hearing with an emotional appeal, blasting the "cold-hearted" devices that don't have the capacity for leeway in doling out punishment, as police officers and sheriff's deputies have.

"It’s the cold, calculated nature of this I find most objectionable," Brandes said. "They don’t offer us the human side of law enforcement. They’re completely and utterly machine-driven."

His bill has two more committee stops before it could reach the Senate floor. Artiles and Jacobs' bill has one more committee to clear in the House.

The proposed law wouldn’t take effect until 2019 to allow time for municipalities’ contracts with vendors to expire, Brandes said.


PolitiFact's guide to the Republican-on-Republican attacks


With the Iowa caucuses over and the New Hampshire primary ahead, the Republican candidates are aiming to draw distinctions among each other like never before.

The longstanding truce between the two leading candidates, Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, recently turned into a full-out feud, and it will likely continue since Trump took second place to Cruz in Iowa caucuses.

Trump has been repeatedly attacking Cruz as "nasty" and "two-faced" and questioning whether the Canadian-born senator would actually qualify for the presidency. Cruz, for his part, says he’s taken the high road and "hasn’t insulted Donald" personally (Mostly False).

Cruz’s other war, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — who came in third in Iowa —has been centered on immigration. The two have made largely inaccurate statements about each other’s positions on the hot-button issue. Then there’s the rest of the field, vying for attention as they trade jabs with Trump and each other.

With so much mudslinging, it can be hard to sort out which accusations and insults are based in facts. PolitiFact’s got you covered. Here’s a rundown of Republican-on-Republican attacks.

Jeb Bush wrong to claim debt never a debate topic


Just a day after finishing far back in the Republican pack in Iowa, Jeb Bush sought a fresh start in New Hampshire with an appearance at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge.

Among other things, Bush responded to an attendee’s question about the national debt with an observation about how little attention the debt has gotten in the presidential campaign.

The debt "comes up all the time in town meetings ... but it's never asked in the debates," Bush said. "It's really weird. It hasn't been brought up."

Really? No moderator asked about the debt, and no candidate volunteered anything about it?

We found that hard to believe -- and it turns out, Bush’s memory on this one is faulty. (Bush has taken part in each of the seven main-stage debates in 2015 and 2016.) His campaign did not respond to an inquiry.

See what Louis Jacobson of PolitiFact found about Bush's statement and follow our coverage in New Hampshire.

Sen. Tom Lee says he's putting brakes on fracking bill until he gets 'honest answers' from regulators

Fracking APThe Senate's budget chief, Sen. Tom Lee, said Wednesday he is putting the bill to prevent local governments from imposing regulations on fracking for oil and gas on hold until the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, which he believes has been absent form the contentious discussion, is prepared to provide some "honest answers."

SB 318 allows the state to regulate and authorize the pumping of large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground using high pressure to recover oil and gas deposits but allows the companies to shield from the public what chemicals are used by labeling them as "trade secrets."

The Senate bill is next scheduled for a vote before the Senate Appropriations Committee which Lee chairs. The bill's companion, HB 191, passed by a 73-45 vote in the House last week, with seven Republicans joined Democrats to oppose the measure.

Lee's home county of Hillsborough on Wednesday passed a resolution urging the legislature to remove the local preemption language from the bill and remove the provision that shields disclosure of the chemicals used.  Download Hillsborough resolution

Lee, R-Brandon, said he was not aware of the commission resolution but while he voted for the measure when it was before the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, he said he will not hear the bill until he gets more cooperation from state regulators. 

"My frustraiton was the DEP was nowhere to be seen,'' he said. "I have told the stakeholders that I will not hear the bill in this committee until such time as the Department of Environmental Protection, which is our regulator, is prepared to come before this committee and answer questions on the record about provisions of that bill.

"We want credible, scientific responses to questions. Not special interest responses. And so I think a lot of people have concerns about a number of differences in the bill as it relates to our substrate made of limerock -- versus where fracking is going on in other places of the country --as well as the preemption language and how there's no sunset to it."

He said he expects his committee "will ultimately agenda the bill" but "we will continue to work with the Department of Environmental Protection to try to get some straight answers."

Lee said that the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners is not alone in its reservations about the proposal.

"There is a growing number of people, not just in the environmental community but in local governments, particularly on the preemption issue, that are concerned about what they believe is an overreach by the state,'' he said.

Photo: In this March 29, 2013 photo, workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Oil & Gas Inc. gas well outside Rifle, Colorado. Brennan Linsley AP



On the campaign trail with Marco Rubio, and his well-honed stump speech

GOP 2016 Rubio (1)


Hop on the Marco Rubio reporters’ bus for a full day, the bus tailing the candidate on his “Marco Mobile” across rainy New Hampshire, and you hear that — Hey! Didn’t ya know? — the presidential candidate’s father was a bartender and his mother was a maid. You hear it four times, in fact, at each of the Florida senator’s four townhall meetings with voters.

There’s the raising-the-stakes line about the 2016 election being “a referendum on our identity.” There’s the gloomy warning that seven more years of Democratic governance would result in a nation “in decline.” There’s the acknowledgment that voters are “angry, and they should be.” But, lest that sound like a concession to Republican rival Donald Trump, Rubio intones, “Anger is not a plan.”

He wants to get to your questions, he promises voters twice, at the beginning and near the end of his not-so-short opening remarks, which often top 20 minutes. But he first wants you to know, needs you to know, just how personal this campaign is for him, the son of immigrants — who were born in Cuba, as you’ve probably already heard — for whom America “is not just the country I was born in — it is the nation that literally changed the history of my family.”

Event after event, it’s the same lines, the same anecdotes, even the same jokes, often delivered with the same oh-so-perfect timing. (His memoir, An American Son, which helped him pay back his student-loan debt, is “now available on paperback!” Cue laughter. Every time.)

This is the talent of Marco Rubio, presidential candidate. And also what some of his rivals are trying to turn into a liability.

He’s too scripted, opponent Chris Christie says. Too rehearsed. He doesn’t answer enough questions from voters — maybe five or six per event — or from reporters.

More here.

Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Legislative committees continue meeting in Tallahassee, while the state's top officials go to the fair. Here's what we're watching:

* They won't have an official cabinet meeting, but Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi will still be at the Florida State Fair in Tampa to help kick off the festivities. The governor will host a luncheon there at noon.

* At 9 a.m., the House Judiciary Committee will again take up the proposed "Pastor Protection Act," which allows clergy to turn away gay couples seeking to marry. The committee's vote was postponed last week.

* The House State Affairs Committee could vote to send to the House floor a proposal that changes the legal language of Florida's absentee voting to "vote-by-mail." That panel also meets at 9 a.m.

* The Senate Transportation Committee, also gathering at 9 a.m., will give a first hearing to a bill by Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, and Anitere Flores of Miami, which aims to outlaw the use of red-light camera devices in Florida.

* A bill dealing with cremation fees that counties charge is set for its final committee hearing in the House. The Regulatory Affairs Committee meets at 1 p.m.

February 03, 2016

Annette Taddeo weighs in on Joe Garcia running against her for Congress


Here's what Annette Taddeo had to say about former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia jumping into the Democratic primary for his old congressional seat -- where Taddeo is already running.

Our South Florida families, workers and small business owners deserve a voice in Washington who will always speak for them.  I began this race for Congress nearly a year ago because as a mother and small business owner, I understand the needs of our communities and I want to be their voice and fight for them every single day.

As a member of Congress I will fight to raise the minimum wage, bring jobs back to our communities, ensure equal pay for women and to strengthen our schools. This is what our communities deserve, but sadly the 26th District has instead endured a series of politicians who've put self-interest first, acted unethically, and at times even acted illegally.  

It’s time to turn a new page in South Florida.  The communities of South Florida want an advocate whose only interest is helping our diverse neighborhoods and families thrive. We deserve a leader who will build on Obamacare, not repeal it.  Defend Planned Parenthood, not defund it.  Reject the anti-immigrant Party of Trump, not champion it.  We deserve a candidate who will bring South Florida’s values to Washington, not become part of the problem. That’s why I’m running and it’s why I’ve been so proud to receive the endorsements of individuals, businesses, unions and elected leaders across the 26th District.

Mayor Gimenez reports schools chief to ethics commission over Liberty Square contact


County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has responded to a letter of concern about the planned redevelopment of Liberty Square sent last week by Miami-Dade Schools chief Alberto Carvalho -- by reporting him to the ethics commission.

On Jan. 27, Carvalho wrote Gimenez to request a meeting to discuss how the roughly $250 million rebuild of Liberty Square might affect students and public schools. His letter followed a phone call he placed to Gimenez the previous day.

In a response Wednesday, Gimenez said he's concerned that the superintendent may have violated a standard procurement gag-order that local government officials go through during competitive solicitations, called the Cone of Silence. Gimenez noted that Carvalho's administration signed a letter of commitment for one of the bidding teams, Miami Waymark 2.0, and because of that support a conversation could be improper until Gimenez makes a recommendation on the project to county commissioners.

Gimenez said he sent Carvalho's letter to the county's chief procurement officer, who in turn told him procurement laws required him to forward the superintendent's letter to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. Gimenez copied his Feb. 3 correspondence to Carvalho to the county clerk in order to avoid violating the cone of silence himself.

Continue reading "Mayor Gimenez reports schools chief to ethics commission over Liberty Square contact" »

Senate, House differ on Gov. Scott's job incentive program


As expected, the Florida House and Senate backed new state budget plans on Wednesday that are in conflict over how to handle one of Gov. Rick Scott's top priorities.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted out a budget that heads to the full Senate next that includes the $250 million Scott has requested for a pool of funding that he wants to use as incentive money to lure companies to move jobs to Florida. About $100 million of that funding in the Senate's plan would come from the state's expected share of settlement money from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Key members of the Senate have been critical of Scott's job incentive program over the last year questioning the return on the investment and what kinds of jobs it is really bringing to Florida. But Senate Appropriations chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said on Wednesday he backed the idea because its so important for Scott and is a legitimate use of state funding.

"There is an argument to be made that the governor has based his legacy and staked his political reputation on creating jobs," Lee said. "We want to help the governor get where he wants to get within reason."

But the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed a spending plan that includes no new money for the incentive program.

Continue reading "Senate, House differ on Gov. Scott's job incentive program" »

Joe Garcia wants his old Miami seat in Congress back


He’s made up his mind: Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia will run for Congress again this year, the Miami Democrat announced Wednesday. He will seek his old seat, which has been redrawn to now include more Democrats.

“We did great things when we were in Congress and I want to continue work on the issues that matter to South Florida, because we deserve better,” Garcia said in a statement to the Miami Herald. “We deserve quality jobs that pay a living wage, lower college tuition, action on climate change, and comprehensive immigration reform.”

Garcia lost his swing Westchester-to-Key West seat in an off-year election when fewer Democrats go to the polls. Running in a presidential year — and in a redrawn district that comfortably favored President Barack Obama in 2012 — Garcia hopes to have better luck, assuming he wins the primary.

Another Democrat, Annette Taddeo, who was Charlie Crist’s running mate in the 2014 Florida governor’s race, is already in the race.

More here.