November 12, 2013

Feds approve American-USAirways merger; Bondi is on board

UPDATE: The Justice Department has reached an agreement to allow American Airlines and US Airways to merge, creating the world's biggest airline.

The agreement requires the airlines to scale back the size of the merger at Washington's Reagan National Airport and in other big cities, including Miami.

In August, the government sued to block the merger, saying it would restrict competition and drive up prices for consumers on hundreds of routes around the country. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and attorneys general from five other states joined to stop the sale. On Nov. 1, Bondi met with American Airlines CEO Tom Horton and later described the meeting as productive.

On Tuesday, Bondi said she was "thrilled" with the agreement which requires the airlines to divest slots at Reagan National in Washington D.C., LaGuardia in New York City as well as gates at Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Love Field, Los Angeles International and Miami.

Slots are required for take offs and landings at Reagan National and LaGuardia because of congestion and the divestitures will enable new carriers to enter the Washington, D.C. and New York markets. The same will happen as the result of gate divestitures, she said in a statement.

“I am thrilled that we have reached an agreement that will not only keep jobs in Florida, but also will lead to additional jobs in our great state,” Bondi said.  “The agreement also ensures that air travelers have ample options before them."

The airlines have said their deal would increase competition by creating another big competitor to United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, which grew through recent mergers.

The settlement reached Tuesday would require approval by a federal judge in Washington. It would require American and US Airways to give up takeoff and landing rights or slots at Reagan National and New York's LaGuardia Airport and gates at airports in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Miami to low-cost carriers to offset the impact of the merger. More here. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

November 04, 2013

Panel: Economic impact of marijuana "cannot be determined"

Legalizing medical marijuana could cost the state in excess of $1.1 million to operate each year, but any other financial or tax impact of offering the drug to the seriously ill is still unclear, according to a state economic panel.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference finished its analysis of the medical marijuana ballot initiative on Monday and concluded that “increased costs from this amendment to state and local governments cannot be determined.”

Aside from the Department of Health, which estimated that it would cost an estimated $1.1 million yearly to regulate the medical marijuana industry, most agencies said the cost would not be significant or did not yet have any hard numbers.

The report stated the health department’s costs “will likely be offset through fees charged to the medical marijuana industry and users."

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriff's Association stated there will be increased costs based on the experience of other states, but did not offer any numbers.

The report estimates that about 417,000 to 452,000 will use medical marijuana based on figures from other states. It was also estimated that about 17,178 to 41,271 snowbirds may apply for ID cards to use medical marijuana.

The campaign to put a medical marijuana amendment on the ballot was launched by United for Care, spearheaded by high-profile, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, whose law firm employs Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

Continue reading "Panel: Economic impact of marijuana "cannot be determined"" »

November 01, 2013

American Airlines CEO, Fla. Attorney General Pam Bondi meet and chat about AA-US Airways merger

There may be a lawsuit between them, but American Airlines CEO Tom Horton and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi still managed a meeting Friday that both described as "productive."
Florida, five other states and Washington, D.C. joined an antitrust suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in August seeking to block the merger of American and US Airways. Miami International Airport is a main hub for American, which is one of the largest private employers in Miami-Dade County.
When the suit was filed, Bondi called the proposed merger "anti-competitive and harmful to consumers."

Continue reading "American Airlines CEO, Fla. Attorney General Pam Bondi meet and chat about AA-US Airways merger" »

October 30, 2013

Gaetz, Weatherford challenging proposed medical marijuana amendment

The battle to get the medical marijuana issue to voters in 2014 has encountered one more challenge.

On Wednesday afternoon, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz submitted a notice of intent to file a brief to the Supreme Court as “interested persons” opposing the ballot initiative. 

The legislative leaders said they weren't addressing the issue of medical marijuana but the language in the ballot proposal, yet Weatherford said the amendment would put "marijuana shops on very street corner" if it passes.

The legislative leaders have joined Attorney General Pam Bondi, who on Oct. 24, sent the proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment to the Florida Supreme Court and asked for an opinion on the petition’s validity. Bondi noted the conflict with federal law but said there are other reasons to throw it off the ballot.

Continue reading "Gaetz, Weatherford challenging proposed medical marijuana amendment" »

October 28, 2013

Thurston and Sheldon play game of chicken in race to challenge Bondi

Although they announced they were running for the Democratic nod for Florida Attorney General in the same week, George Sheldon and Perry Thurston swear they won’t become bitter rivals.

“If we stay in the race, it will be positive,” said Sheldon, who until last week worked as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families.

“A primary isn’t the best thing for the party, and I’m a party guy,” said Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, who is the Democratic Leader in the Florida House. “I know the party will make the right decision.”

But the race to challenge incumbent Pam Bondi hasn’t begun yet and they are already disagreeing about what exactly the two talked about when they spoke by phone last week before Saturday’s Florida Democratic State Conference in Orlando.

Sheldon, who announced Oct. 21 that he was running for AG, said Thurston called him and the two spoke for about five to 10 minutes on Thursday. Subsequently, on Saturday, Thurston announced at the convention that he was running for AG.

“I would rather have known he was announcing to run when we talked,” said Sheldon, 66. “I had thought he had ruled it out. His announcement caught quite a few of us by surprise.”

Thurston, however, said he told Sheldon during the phone chat that he was running for AG.

“I’m pretty clear, I don’t stutter or mumble,” said Thurston, 52. “I told him I was running.”

Continue reading "Thurston and Sheldon play game of chicken in race to challenge Bondi" »

October 24, 2013

Pam Bondi challenges proposed medical marijuana amendment

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is contesting a proposed ballot initiative for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment and has asked the Florida Supreme Court for an opinion.

Bondi contends the proposal from People United for Medical Marijuana, a group led by high-profile attorney John Morgan, is misleading the public and is presented in a way that does not convey its “true meaning and ramifications.”

Bondi is required by law to send a ballot initiative to the state Supreme Court for review within 30 days after it’s submitted to her office.

The proposal, she wrote in a letter filed today to the court, implies that the amendment would allow medical marijuana in narrow, defined circumstances and only for patients for “debilitating diseases. But Bondi says that if the amendment passes, “Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations.”

She also writes that the amendment would call for the legal use of medical marijuana even though federal law still prohibits it.

Morgan argues that if the state legalized medical marijuana, the governor and legislature would still oversee licensing and regulations.

He said the proposal, being circulated in a statewide petition drive, includes language the public wants.

Continue reading "Pam Bondi challenges proposed medical marijuana amendment" »

October 22, 2013

Content with state senate, Sachs won't run for Florida AG

Scratch state Sen. Maria Sachs of Delray Beach from the list of possible Democratic challengers to Republican Attorney Pam Bondi.

A former prosecutor who once worked for then-Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno, Sachs proved herself a tough campaigner last year when she beat Ellyn Bogdanoff for newly drawn Senate District 34.

As the Democrats head into the party’s state conference in Orlando this weekend, however, she ruled herself out out of consideration.

Sachs said she was approached four weeks ago and asked if she  would consider a run. Sachs wouldn’t say who asked her, referring to them only as “various folks” involved in state politics.

“I’ve been in the state legislature for seven years and I still have unfinished business to do,” Sachs said. “I’m focused on the 400,000 people who live in my district, and I don’t think you can focus on your district if you’re thinking about another office.”

Asked straight up if she was NOT going to run for AG, Sachs said: “Correct. I think we have good candidates on the Democratic side. I will certainly support whoever comes out as our nominee.”

On Monday, former secretary of the Department of Children and Families, George Sheldon, announced he was running. Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston said he was considering a run as well.

“I think they’re both good,” Sachs said. “They prove that the Democratic bench is getting longer.”

October 21, 2013

After Sheldon throws in, Thurston mulling own bid for AG

George Sheldon may have filed to run for Attorney General on Monday, making him the first Democrat to challenge Republican Pam Bondi, but there could be more on the way.

When told about Sheldon's candidacy early Monday, Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale said he was surprised.

“You caught me off guard,” Thurston said. “Will I rule out running? No. Will I do what’s in the best interest of the party? Yes.”

Thurston said he will make a decision soon, but wouldn’t say when that would be. 

He did say that others are considering a run as well, but wouldn’t name which Democrats he’s heard about. He said he doesn’t know Sheldon, who represents a different era for the party. Thurston leads a caucus that finds itself outnumbered 75 to 45. By contrast, when Sheldon began an eight-year stint in the House in 1974, there were 93 Democrats and 27 Republicans.

“The fact that (Sheldon) would file to run wouldn’t force me to not to run,” Thurston said. "Ultimately, I'll do what will help the party."

Former DCF secretary Sheldon announces he's running for AG

George Sheldon, who served as secretary for the Florida Department of Children and Families under Gov. Charlie Crist, said Monday he will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Sheldon on Friday quit his $179,000 job as the assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families in Washington. In a 10-hour drive on Saturday, Sheldon said he called potential donors to raise the money he’ll need to take on Bondi, who has already raised $1.4 million.

“I’ve got to be competitive from a dollar standpoint,” Sheldon said. “I can’t be outspent 3-1, or even 2-1.”

A former legislative aide to then-state senator Reubin Askew, Sheldon served in the Legislature from 1974 to 1982. He served as deputy attorney general for former Attorney General Bob Butterworth from 1999 to 2002. He ran against Crist in 2000 for Education Commissioner and lost. In 2000, he ran for Attorney General but came in third in the Democratic primary, which was won by Buddy Dyer, who is now the Orlando mayor. Dyer lost to Crist.

“Now he’s a Democrat,” Sheldon joked. “It’s ironic that I ran against Charlie and then later served as his secretary (of DCF).”

Sheldon said he’s announcing now because he wants to take advantage of this weekend’s Florida Democratic Party State Conference, where he will be introduced as a speaker by his former boss, Butterworth.

Sheldon, 66, said he'll make Bondi's opposition of the Affordable Care Act and concerns raised about her fundraising top issues in his campaign.

"I clearly think that Pam Bondi hasn't shown a serious approach to her job that I think she should," Sheldon said. 

Here's his statement:

"This past Friday I officially resigned as Assistant Secretary for the United States Department of Health and Human Services and today I am announcing my candidacy for Attorney General for Florida.

"As Deputy Attorney General for Bob Butterworth I know the potential that office holds for protecting our families and taking on any one or any corporation that would threaten us.

"Taking on predatory lenders, human traffickers, and those who engage in deceptive practices is the job of the Attorney General…not working full time trying to deny health insurance to children and anyone with preexisting conditions.  

"This race is about character.  Who has the experience and character to use the office of attorney general for general good rather than as a personal, political, partisan platform.

"I hope you agree that my experience in Florida’s Attorney General office, serving as Secretary of Children and Families in Florida, and as Assistant Secretary at the United States Department of Health and Human Services allows me to serve as Florida’s Attorney General.

"I’m proud that children and families have been in my job title for almost a decade and that protecting has been a job description.

"It is time to restore integrity in the Attorney General office. Together we can do it.  I ask for your vote, your help, your time and your prayers. Together we can restore character to the office of attorney general."  

Upon the announcement, Bondi's campaign manager, Pablo Diaz, released a statement.

"As Florida's Attorney General, Pam Bondi has fought hard to defend and protect the people by making Florida a zero tolerance state for pill mills, taking on human trafficking, and pursuing consumer relief from both, mortgage and Medicaid fraud. 

Pam Bondi and George Sheldon have very different credentials and points of view, and we welcome the opportunity to show the voters in Florida that they will have a clear choice between two distinctly different candidates."

Sheldon provided this bio:

Acting Assistant Secretary for children and Families, US Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services,  2011-13

Secretary, Florida Department of Children and Families, 2010-12

Assistant Secretary for Operations, Florida Department of Children and Families,  2009-10

Associate Dean, St. Thomas University Law School, 2003-09

Stiles, Taylor, Grace, 2002-2003

Deputy Attorney General for Central Florida, 1999-2002

Sheldon, Cusick and Associates, 1987-99

 Levine, Freedman, Hirsch and Levinson, 1982-87

 State Representative, District 69 representing Tampa, 1974-82

 Executive Director, Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens, 1973-75

 Assistant to the Deputy Secretary, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, 1971-72

 Legislative Aide to then-Senator Reubin Askew, 1969-70

 

 

 

October 17, 2013

Bondi's re-election gets boost from curiously timed Trump contribution

TALLAHASSEE — For the second time in more than a month, campaign contributions fueling the re-election efforts of Attorney General Pam Bondi are raising questions about the overlap between politics and how Florida's top law enforcement officer performs her duties.

Bondi apologized last month after she persuaded Gov. Rick Scott to delay an execution so she could host a fundraiser at her South Tampa home that ended up raising $140,000.

Now comes criticism of a $25,000 contribution made by one of Donald Trump's foundations to a political committee associated with Bondi. The donation came three days after an Attorney General's office spokeswoman said Bondi was reviewing allegations in a lawsuit filed by the New York attorney general against get-rich-quick seminars associated with Trump.

See story here.