June 21, 2016

LGBT rights activists want Rick Scott to sign anti-discrimination rules after Orlando shooting

@MichaelAuslen

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A week after a gunman killed 49 people inside an Orlando gay nightclub, advocacy groups want new protections enacted to protect LGBT Floridians.

Equality Florida, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights has long pushed for state anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a move that could presage more forceful action when the state Legislature returns to Tallahassee next year, the group’s lobbyist, Carlos Guillermo Smith, called on Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to act now — without lawmakers’ involvement.

“Gov. Rick Scott and Pam Bondi could issue an executive order today with the stroke of a simple pen that would forbid and make illegal anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our state,” said Smith, a Democrat also running for the Florida House, in an interview Sunday on MSNBC.

State law does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

For 10 years, lawmakers have proposed expanding Florida’s civil rights protections, but their attempts have never reached a floor vote either chamber of the state Legislature. This spring, the proposal achieved a small victory: its first-ever committee hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee considered the bill but did not approve it.

Asked whether he would support anti-discrimination protections, the governor’s office reiterated comments Scott made Monday when reporters pressed him on his gay-rights record.

“Right now what I want to focus on is how do we make sure that we love everybody impacted: the gay community, the Hispanic community,” he said. “But let’s all remember this was an attack on our entire nation.”

He did not say whether he intends to push for additional protections of LGBT groups.

However, Scott could not extend full anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people in hiring, housing and public accommodations by executive order.

In an interview with the Times/Herald on Tuesday, Smith said he wants Scott and Bondi to enact narrower, more immediate change: executive action to protect state workers and government contractors.

This would be within the governor’s powers. Early in his first term, Scott issued an executive order requiring state workers to be randomly drug tested, although that was later struck down by a judge.

Cabinet officials could set similar rules within their offices. Bondi already has done this, spokeswoman Kylie Mason said.

“The Attorney General does not have the authority to issue an executive order,” she said in a statement. “However, our office already has a policy in place against discrimination based on sexual preference.”

Some groups criticized Smith for pushing Equality Florida’s agenda so soon after the shooting at Pulse nightclub. The Florida Family Policy Council, which advocates for social conservatives and largely opposes LGBT-rights groups’ agenda, tweeted Tuesday morning that Equality Florida is “politicizing tragedy.”

Since the attack, Scott and Bondi have both issued statements supportive of the state’s LGBT community.

“We pray for our LGBT community,” Scott wrote on Twitter. “Our Hispanic community. Our state. Our nation. This was an attack on every American.”

But during more than five years in office, neither Republican official has taken up the mantle of gay rights.

Bondi fought and lost a court battle to uphold a same-sex marriage ban, spending $493,000 in taxpayer funds in the process. Scott’s administration is in the process of removing proposed protections for LGBT foster children in group homes from state rules.

LGBT-rights advocates hope recent well wishes could turn into political action when the Legislature is in session next year.

Equality Florida’s wish list includes not only anti-discrimination laws but also expanding the definition of hate crimes to include transgender people and banning so-called conversion therapy.

Smith said the group has requested a meeting with Scott and Bondi to discuss its agenda.

Photo by Eve Edelheit, Tampa Bay Times.

June 17, 2016

PolitiFact looks at the Anderson Cooper-Pam Bondi faceoff

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An interview in Orlando between CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on June 14 has gone viral, due to Cooper’s aggressive questioning about her record on gay and lesbian issues.

Many social media users who shared the clip of the interview thought Bondi seemed defensive under Cooper’s pointed questioning. Cooper asked her about her opposition to same-sex marriage and what that meant to the loved ones of the 49 dead after the attack on a gay nightclub.

After the interview went viral, matters between Bondi and Cooper got testy, as both accused each other of mistaken facts and lack of context.

Ultimately, though, it appears that Cooper and Bondi have been talking past each other. We didn’t find any obvious inaccuracies about what either side was saying.

Here’s a recap from PolitiFact Florida.

June 16, 2016

Pam Bondi on Fox News: Anderson Cooper 'basically mocked me'

Foxnfriends

@ByKristenMClark

The feud between Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and CNN host Anderson Cooper continues to escalate, with Bondi taking advantage of favorable media to criticize Cooper for his scrutinizing interview of her two days ago.

Bondi appeared Thursday morning on the Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" morning show to repeat her claims that Cooper interviewed her under false pretenses -- accusations that Cooper said Wednesday night weren't true.

"Fox & Friends" host Steve Doocy remarked that Bondi was "clearly blindsided" by Cooper's "political attack," and the network referred to it as both an "interview ambush" and a "bait and switch."

"He just flipped on me," Bondi said on "Fox & Friends" — again accusing Cooper of inciting "anger and hatred," although she also called him a "champion of the LGBT community."

Bondi’s office on Thursday did not respond to a request from the Herald/Times for comment about Cooper’s response to her claims, but she told Fox News: "The interview is what it is."

She added that she felt Cooper "cut me off" and "basically mocked me" for saying repeatedly that she wanted to "focus on unity and love" after the Orlando shooting.

Full details here on their back and forth over the past two days.

Plaintiff in Florida gay marriage case 'dismayed' by Pam Bondi's comments on CNN

@ByKristenMClark

One of the plaintiffs in Florida’s previous same-sex marriage fight is calling out Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi for her answers to CNN's Anderson Cooper in a now-viral interview that aired live Tuesday.

Christian Ulvert wrote in a letter to Bondi that he was "dismayed by the response you offered to Mr. Cooper regarding your efforts in your relentless fight against the LGBT community."

Bondi had told Cooper she was doing what her job required her to do: "Uphold the Constitution of the state of Florida," she said.

"Instead of following the lead of other attorneys general, you decided to fight the case," wrote Ulvert, who is also a Democratic political consultant in South Florida. "You had the opportunity, as Governor Lawton Chiles once did, in saying the state is on the wrong side of history and unable to defend the discriminatory measure in our constitution. Worse, as the Attorney General of Florida, you declared that gay Floridians like my husband and me posed great harm. Those aren’t my words, those are yours because it was done under your control and supervision. You cannot deflect responsibility to one of your lawyers as you said in the interview."

"I can only believe that your heart is guided by love, but your acts and words show a different voice," Ulvert added, calling on Bondi to now use her position to fight against discrimination of LGBT people going forward.

Bondi said in a statement to the Herald/Times Thursday afternoon: “I know Christian, and I am happy to sit down with him and my legislative team prior to the start of the 2017 legislative session.”

In the wake of Tuesday's interview, a rift between Bondi and Cooper grew Wednesday as the two exchanged responses over the true purpose of the CNN interview.

Read the latest on that here.

Bondi claimed she was supposed to talk about the potential for donation scams after the Orlando shooting, and she said afterward that Cooper "completely flipped" by bringing up her record on LGBT issues. Cooper countered that Bondi was "either mistaken or she’s not telling the truth" about why she was booked for the live interview.

Bondi's office has not responded to a request for comment about Cooper's response to her claims.

June 15, 2016

Anderson Cooper: Pam Bondi 'either mistaken or not telling the truth' about CNN interview

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@ByKristenMClark

Hold the phone, Pam Bondi.

In Act 3 of a two-day saga, CNN host Anderson Cooper says Florida's Republican attorney general is "either mistaken or she's not telling the truth" about the pretenses of her now-viral interview with him Tuesday afternoon.

Cooper had questioned the 'sick irony' of Bondi talking about her support for the LGBT community in the wake of the Orlando shooting massacre, when she previously had fought for years efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Florida.

On Wednesday morning, Bondi responded to the interview by going on a New York talk radio show -- the host of which, Todd Schnitt, called Bondi his "long-time friend." Bondi and the radio hosts criticized Cooper for interviewing her under false pretenses.

She said "the interview was supposed to be about helping victims families" by educating the public about potential donation scams and Tuesday wasn't "the time nor the place" to discuss a "constitutional issue."

But on "AC 360" Wednesday night, Cooper said Bondi's preferred topic actually wasn't the purpose of the interview at all.

He said, before they went on air, he asked Bondi -- as he does all his guests -- what she'd like to talk about. He chose to lead the interview with that, but then he said he wanted to hold her accountable for the contradiction between her past and present comments about LGBT people.

"Let's be real here," Cooper said, "Ms. Bondi's big complaint seems to be that I asked in the first place, in the wake of a massacre that targeted gay and lesbian citizens, about her new statements about the gay community and about her old ones."

He added: "It's my job to hold people accountable. And if on Sunday, a politician's talking about love and embracing 'our LGBT community,' I don't think it's unfair to look at their record and see if they have actually ever spoken that way publicly before -- which I've never heard her say."

Watch Cooper's full response to Bondi here:

The full-length version of her original CNN interview -- which Cooper refers to and which Bondi had complained wasn't posted online -- is available here:

Here, again, was Bondi's response to Cooper on the radio show Wednesday morning:

Pam Bondi: Yesterday wasn't 'time nor place' for CNN's Anderson Cooper to ask about her record on LGBT rights

via @adamsmithtimes

Attorney General Pam Bondi today appeared on the radio show of her friend Todd Schnitt, criticizing CNN's Anderson Cooper for focusing on her record on LGBT rights -- rather than questions about helping victims of the Orlando shooting which she had expected to address.

"The interview was supposed to be about helping victims families not creating, more anger and havoc and hatred," she said.

Listen to the interview below.

Read here for more on the original CNN interview.

June 14, 2016

Pam Bondi on CNN: 'I've never said I don't like gay people'

@JeremySWallace

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Tuesday defended her actions two years ago to fight same-sex marriage during a tense interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Cooper questioned if it were a "sick irony" for Bondi to say in interviews since the shootings in Orlando that anyone who attacks the gay community will be gone after to the fullest extent of the law when she argued in court years ago that allowing marriage equality would "impose significant public harm." He said there are people in the gay community who think she's a hypocrite for her actions.

Cooper asked Bondi if she saw herself as a champion of the gay community.

Bondi responded that she was defending the state constitution, as she is sworn to defend.

"I've never said I don't like gay people," Bondi said. "That's ridiculous."

A 4-minute clip of the interview is posted on CNN.com; CNN reporter Brian Stelter also tweeted out a longer, 5-1/2 minute version (above). 

June 10, 2016

Scratch one Bondi complaint, as Florida Bar has no jurisdiction

via @stevebousquet

The Massachusetts lawyer who wants an investigation of Attorney General Pam Bondi won't be getting much of a response from the Florida Bar.

Bondi is a member of the Florida Cabinet, a lawyer and member of the Bar, but as long as she holds public office, she's beyond the Bar's jurisdiction. Citing a writ of prohibition issued by the Supreme Court in 1982 that dealt with separation of powers issues, the Bar says anyone who files a complaint against a lawyer who at the time holds a constitutional office receives this response:

"The Florida Supreme Court has held that a person elected to a constitutionally created office who must be a lawyer to hold that office is not answerable to the Florida Bar while that person holds that office. Therefore, the Bar does not have jurisdiction over the elected state attorney or elected public defender in any of our judicial circuits, nor do we have jurisdiction over the attorney general of our state."

The Bar also notes that under the Florida Constitution, a Cabinet member is exclusively subject to impeachment proceedings by the state House of Representatives "for misdemeanor in office."

Attorney J. Whitfield Larrabee III of Brookline, Mass. filed a complaint with the Bar Wednesday based on news accounts that she solicited a $25,000 campaign contribution from Donald Trump in 2013 at a time when her office had on file at least one complaint from a disgruntled customer of Trump University, the GOP presidential candidate's now-defunct real estate academy.

Trump U is a defendant in class-action civil suits involving customers living in California, Florida and New York who accuse the program of fraud and deceptive trade practices.

Larrabee accused Bondi of a conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety. He also filed complaints against with Bondi with the Florida Elections Commission and Commission on Ethics. Bondi has called all three complaints "attacks without merit and I am confident it will be shown they have no basis in fact."

Activists blast Gov. Rick Scott and AG Pam Bondi for failing to condemn Trump's 'racist' comments

GOP 2016 TrumpDemocratic activists on Thursday blasted Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi Thursday for failing to condemn Donald Trump for what they consider "racist" comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel and urged them to refrain from using taxpayer dollars to travel to Tampa to appear on stage with the presumptive Republican nominee on Saturday.

"We understand it takes all the efforts of our taxpayer dollars to mobilize and move around our elected officials and when you stand up with those...who have been involved in racist comments, that speaks volumes,'' said Derrick McRae, pastor of The Experience Christian Center in Orlando in a call with reporters. "We should not be using state funds to help push a racist comment or a racist platform."

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Delray Beach, said he was especially outraged that Bondi and Scott, who were elected to uphold the laws of Florida, have refused to distance themselves from the comments or demand a public apology from Trump.

"As a Republican partisan, Pam Bondi has every right to support these raciest views; she has every right to participate in conference calls with the campaign,'' Deutch said. But as "the attorney general for one of our countries most diverse states she's got a moral obligation to...denounce the statements as Republican leaders across the country have done."

Bondi and Scott are scheduled to appear Saturday at an 11 a.m. rally with Trump at the Tampa Convention Center. Neither has criticized Trump for comments suggesting that because Curiel is of Mexican descent he could not be fair in his treatment of the pending lawsuit about the now-defunct Trump University. Curiel was born in Indiana to Mexican parents.

After repeatedly citing Curiel’s ethnicity, Trump said Tuesday that his comments questioning whether a federal judge was biased because of his Mexican heritage have been “misconstrued” and that he didn’t mean to impugn the American justice system with his complaints or Mexican-Americans in general.

Immigration activist Maria Rodriguez also called out Helen Aguirre Ferré, a member of the board of trustees of Miami Dade College who was recently hired as Hispanic communications director of the Republican National Committee, for her failure to distance herself from Trump's comments.

"It's very disappointing to see Helen Aguirre Ferré use her name legitimize this very divisive campaign,'' she said. "It sanitizes the hate and divisiveness of this speech."

Rodriguez accused Trump of "successfully divided and bullied his way to the Republican nomination" and done it "through coded and blatant attacks on latinos."

Chastising Aguirre Ferré, she said, "it's a huge contradiction to serve in a Hispanic-serving institution and turn your back on the students who are being attacked by this candidate."

Aguirre Ferré told the Miami Herald she sees her role as  "in support of all the Republican candidates."

She has publicly criticized Trump in the past with #NeverTrump tweets, where she called him crazy and criticized Trump for inciting violence at his Chicago rally. Last month she told Univisión’s Al Punto Florida, “I do think there’s something that bothers him about strong and independent women.” She has since deleted her critical Trump tweets.

Rodriguez said she was "not surprised by Attorney General Bondi. "She has used every opportunity to undermine immigrant families and supported attacks on their families" by using tax money to file action aimed at blocking President Obama's executive order on immigration.

Deutch, a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, said Scott should "make it very clear the citizens of Florida should expect the governor of our state, our diverse state, who has endorsed Donald Trump, that he will rescind the endorsement until he apologizes and makes clear he will support a legal system that works for all Americans."

Photo: FILE - In this May 26, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Billings, Mont., Thursday, May 26, 2016. Trump says comments on judge 'misconstrued' as an attack against people of Mexican heritage.Brennan Linsley AP



 

June 02, 2016

Florida's cost for same-sex marriage court fight: Nearly $500K

From Dara Kam at The News Service of Florida:

Florida taxpayers are on the hook for almost $500,000 in fees to lawyers who successfully challenged the state's prohibition against same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, who initially balked at paying the legal fees, has agreed to pay $280,000 to Jacksonville lawyers William Sheppard, Betsy White and Sam Jacobson, who represented two same-sex couples, according to documents filed in federal court on Wednesday.

Bondi's office last month agreed to pay $213,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which represented eight same-sex couples who were married in other states.

The settlements came after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in April that the lawyers in the consolidated cases were entitled to the fees, and nearly two years after Hinkle first ruled that Florida's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.

Hinkle put a stay on his August 2014 constitutional decision until January 2015, when same-sex marriages began in Florida.

A battle over the legal fees began last summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry. The Supreme Court ruling came in a case involving other states, but it cemented Hinkle's ruling that Florida's ban was unconstitutional.

Continue reading "Florida's cost for same-sex marriage court fight: Nearly $500K" »