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January 04, 2017

Jeb Bush to give speech in Texas same night as Obama's farewell address

GOP 2016 Bush


Former Gov. Jeb Bush will give a speech at Texas A&M University on Jan. 10th -- the same night that President Barack Obama gives his farewell address.

The George Bush Presidential Library Foundation at the university will host the 6 p.m. event.

Bush will also teach a 10-day course on gubernatorial leadership at the university starting Jan. 6th.

(Associated Press phot of Bush taking questions from reporters following a town hall-style meeting at La Progresiva Presbyterian School in Little Havana in 2015.)

Two Florida Board of Education seats vacant as next meeting approaches

via @TB_Times' @JeffSolochek

The seven-person Florida Board of Education heads toward its Jan. 17 meeting with two open seats and no announced time line from the Governor's Office to fill them.

Board member John Padget, a Keys businessman and onetime Monroe superintendent, was forced to step down in December after having served two full terms. He cannot be reappointed.

Board member Michael Olenick, a former Department of Education general counsel, could be considered for another stint on the board. He spent only two years in the seat, filling the unexpired term of Miami-Dade physician Ada Armas, who resigned after two years.

"Anyone is welcome to apply and can find more information at," Governor's Office spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said via email.

So far, Schenone wrote, six people have submitted applications for the positions. They include two former Republican candidates for public office and a college administrator.

Florida law professors take part in national effort to block Sessions as attorney general

via @learyreports

More than 30 law professors in Florida have joined a national effort opposing Sen. Jeff Sessions as Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, contending racial issues make him unqualified to lead the Justice Department.

“We are 1140 faculty members from 171 different law schools in 49 states across the country. We urge you to reject the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General of the United States,” reads a letter sent to Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“In 1986, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, in a bipartisan vote, rejected President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of then-U.S. Attorney Sessions for a federal judgeship, due to statements Sessions had made that reflected prejudice against African Americans. Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge.”

“Some of us have concerns about his misguided prosecution of three civil rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in 1985, and his consistent promotion of the myth of voter-impersonation fraud. Some of us have concerns about his support for building a wall along our country’s southern border. Some of us have concerns about his robust support for regressive drug policies that have fueled mass incarceration. Some of us have concerns about his questioning of the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change. Some of us have concerns about his repeated opposition to legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community. Some of us share all of these concerns.

"All of us believe it is unacceptable for someone with Senator Sessions’ record to lead the Department of Justice."

That said, the Alabama Republican is expected to make it through confirmation. A hearing is set for next week.

"Many African-American leaders who've known him for decades attest to this and have welcomed his nomination to be the next Attorney General," a Sessions spokeswoman said Tuesday after the NAACP staged a sit-in at his Alabama office. “These false portrayals of Senator Sessions will fail as tired, recycled, hyperbolic charges that have been thoroughly rebuked and discredited.”

The Florida professors:

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Supreme Court: There's no death penalty in Florida right now


UPDATE: At 1 p.m., the Florida Supreme Court vacated its earlier ruling, writing that it was issued "prematurely." Read more here.

EARLIER STORY: The state Supreme Court made clear Wednesday that there is no law on the books in Florida allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty in murder cases.

In a 5-2 ruling, the court rejected a request by Attorney General Pam Bondi to clarify an October decision that said juries must make a unanimous vote to sentence someone to death. It threw out a law passed last spring that required a 10-2 supermajority by the jury.

"The act’s 10-2 recommendation requirement renders the act unconstitutional," the justices in the majority wrote. "Thus, the act 'cannot be applied to pending prosecutions.' "

In a statement, a Bondi spokesman said her office is "reviewing" the order.

Now, it will be up to the Legislature to pass a new death penalty law calling for a unanimous jury vote. It's a priority, state Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, a former prosecutor who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told the Times/Herald last month.

"We have to act," Sprowls said. "By the time we conclude our business, we have to have a death penalty statute that can be relied upon and that's legal, so that victims have access to justice."

Two justices, Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, dissented, saying that the court ought to issue a clarification on its ruling to end "confusion and paralysis across the state regarding the death penalty and capital trials" and that they did not believe the state's death penalty statute was unconstitutional.

Bondi said in October after the court ruled the death penalty laws unconstitutional that she believed courts could move forward with capital cases under a higher, unanimous jury standard. In one case, she said, a Marion County judge "erred" by putting sentencing on hold in a double-murder case.

"That's why we are asking the Supreme Court to clarify," Bondi said in October. "To state the obvious: that the death penalty must be unanimous."

Scott follows through on previous plan and will budget 46 additional 'counterterrorism' agents

From our friends at the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants to spend nearly $6 million to boost the number of state agents dedicated to counterterrorism efforts.

Sparked by last year's attack on the Pulse nightclub that left 49 dead, Scott will ask legislators to include enough money in the annual budget to hire agents who will be stationed in seven regions across the state.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen last fall first recommended hiring 46 additional agents. Legislators will consider the request during their annual session that starts in March.

Scott said he is backing the request because the state needs "specialists that are solely dedicated to identifying these terrorists and stopping them."

During the June rampage, shooter Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in telephone conversations with a 911 operator and a police negotiator. 

Legislators will replace post-Mosaic pollution rule with law requiring 24-hour notice

In the wake of the Mosaic fertilizer spill last summer, Florida legislators are drafting a law to require companies and local officials to notify the public when pollution threatens public drinking water.

The legislation, being drafted by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, is in response to a judge's ruling on Friday that rejected an emergency rule imposed by Gov. Rick Scott in September. Scott's rule was imposed after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Mosaic, the world's largest phosphate company, failed to notify the public for more than three weeks that the company had dumped 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Florida aquifer.

After DEP claimed it had no obligation to notify the public about the pollution problem unless the contamination showed up beyond the borders of the company's property, the resulting public outcry provoked the governor to order the emergency rule. The rule required the owner or operator of a facility to notify DEP, local government and the general public of the pollution event within 24 hours of the onset of the contamination.

Scott said he was taking that step not only because of the sinkhole at the Mosaic facility in Mulberry, but also because of the delay in St. Petersburg officials reporting the tens of millions of gallons of sewage that the city's aging wastewater system released into Tampa Bay after Hurricane Hermine.

The rule, which was posted Nov. 15, was challenged by business groups as Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau and the Florida Trucking Association. 

But Judge Bram D. E. Canter said in the 19-page order on Friday that DEP had overstepped its authority in approving the new rule and that only the state Legislature can enact such a change in how the public is notified regarding pollution.

“This ruling is disappointing for Floridians who deserve prompt notification when potentially hazardous pollution occurs in their communities,” said House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa in a statement on Tuesday. “However, the Legislature now has the opportunity to craft a permanent solution that will protect the health and safety of our citizens while preserving our environmental resources for future generations. I am heartened that Gov. Scott has made this issue a priority and House Democrats look forward to working with him on this vital protection for Floridians.”

Galvano and Peters each told the Herald/Times they are working with the governor's office to draft the legislation to achieve the goals sought by the original rule.

The issue promises to be a controversial one, however, as several lobbying organizations, have signed up to weigh in on the issue, according to the House's lobbyists disclosure portal. Among them is the Helena Chemical Company, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Gas Transmission Company, the Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Associations of Realtors, the Florida Energy Pipeline Association and the Florida Association of Counties. 

Tampa Bay reporter Craig Pittman contributed to this report. 

Sarasota Senator wants to end short-term rental restrictions statewide



City and county governments would no longer be able to stop homeowners from renting their homes for less than a month or even just a week, under legislation a Sarasota Republican has filed.

Currently cities and counties have varying rules statewide on rental properties, particularly on beachfront communities. Some areas bar homeowners from renting their homes for less than 6 months at a time. Others allow for 1 month rentals. Yet others allow weekly rentals.

State Sen. Greg Steube said it makes no sense to have a patchwork of laws that infringe on private property rights. Steube said if a person wants to rent out their home for just one week and the home is in a area with zoning that allowed for it, then it should be allowed.

Steube said he and his wife were recently looking to invest in a home in Flagler Beach to rent out. But he said they were told rules there would not allow them to rent out the property for less than 6 months at a time.

“It’s a private property rights issue to me,” Steube said.

Steube’s bill follows up on similar legislation that passed in 2014 that barred cities and counties from restricting duration of rentals if they didn’t already have a law in place - that essentially grandfathered municipalities who had older ordinances to keep restricting rentals. But Steube wants those grandfathered rules eliminated too.

His bill comes at a time some communities, like in Pinellas County, are pushing the Legislature to go the other way and allow them to once again impose minimum limits on how long property can be rented. At the Pinellas County delegation meeting earlier this month, lawmakers heard from officials from Indian Rocks and Redington Beach who say the state needs to give them authority to stop the weekly turnover that comes with shorter rentals.

January 03, 2017

Trump wants to halt Guantánamo transfers. No, says White House

via @carolrosenberg

With little over two weeks left in the Obama administration, and Congress on notice of a series of looming detainee transfers, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday for a cessation of Guantánamo prisoner releases. The Obama administration swiftly rejected the request.

Expect announcements of additional transfers before Inauguration Day, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. Trump will “have an opportunity to implement the policy that he believes is most effective when he takes office on Jan. 20,” he added.

Of the 59 captives currently held at the detention center, 23 are cleared for release to other countries with security assurances that satisfy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Ten are charged with crimes and the remaining 26 are held as indefinite detainees in the war on terror, or “forever prisoners.” Carter has sent notices to Congress of planned transfers for most, but not all, of the 23 cleared captives that could begin later this week. 

It was unclear what prompted the president-elect to tweet on the topic with such urgency on Tuesday. “There should be no further releases from Gitmo,” the president-elect said, using the shorthand for the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. “These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”

More here.

Florida Democratic Party chair feud erupts over residency


With the race for Florida Democratic Party chair less than two weeks away, activists are fighting over who is eligible to remain in the running.

An activist filed a challenge with the party alleging that Alan Clendenin, who moved counties to keep his chair bid alive, is ineligible to run. When Clendenin lost a race for state committeeman in Hillsborough, he then rented a mobile home in Bradford County and won a similar position there. 

Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, wrote in the Dec. 30 complaint that Clendenin has homestead exemptions in Hillsborough and Manatee counties and doesn't actually live in Bradford.

"It appears that Mr. Clendenin has disengenuously played a shell game with residences and homestead exemptions in total violation of state election laws and state homestead laws for the sole purpose of positioning himself to be eligible to run for the state party chairman," Byrd wrote. "However, despite his best efforts, it is clear that he was not, and is not, a resident of Bradford County."

Clendenin called the complaint "petty gamesmanship." 

Property records show that Clendenin and John Pecchio are co-owners of the two homesteaded properties. Clendenin said he takes the homestead exemption on the Tampa home and Pecchio, his partner, takes it on the Manatee home. 

Scott Tussing, director of public service and exemptions for Manatee County, confirmed that Pecchio is the only one who has the homestead exemption for the Manatee property and Clendenin has it for the Hillsborough county. (If they were a married couple, the situation would be different and then only one home could be homesteaded. The couple is not married.)

Richard Boylan, chair of the party's rules committee, said he hadn't yet received the complaint.

Clendenin wasn't the only candidate to move counties in the hopes of keeping his candidacy alive.

Former state Sen. Dwight Bullard moved to Gadsden County where he won a state committeeman position after he lost a similar election in Miami-Dade to Coconut Grove developer/donor Stephen Bittel. Voter registration records show that on Dec. 27th Bullard changed his address for voting purposes to 36 Lanier Lane, Gretna but listed his address in Miami-Dade for mailing purposes. The Gretna address doesn't exist in records on the Gadsden property appraiser website. Bullard, a teacher at Coral Reef Senior High in Miami, hasn't responded to text messages or an email about his move.

Winning a county position is a requirement to run for chair. In addition to Clendenin, Bullard and Bittel, Duval County's Lisa King and Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carius are also running.

All five candidates will appear at a forum in Pompano Beach Jan. 11th and they face off in the election Orlando Jan. 14th.

This blog has been updated with comments from the Manatee County property appraiser's office.