August 22, 2013

Battle over release of partisan redistricting docs goes back to court today

The bitterly fought redistricting battle will take another turn today in a Tallahassee courtroom as Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis is asked to reject allegations that the political consultants who helped Republican Party leaders determine the political performance of their maps be ordered to produce their internal emails and documents in the long-simmering dispute. 

The consultants, Pat Bainter, Matt Mitchell, Michael Sheehan of the Gainesville-based Data Targeting, and GOP consultant Frank Terraferma, have asked the court for a protective order after Lewis in May held them in contempt. They had been ordered to turn over the documents in October 2012 but have resisted allowing the plaintiffs in the case, the League of Women Voters and the Fair Districts coalition, to review them claiming the data sets and political analysis are trade secrets.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are asking Lewis to put an end to the year-long standoff. 

“This cat-and-mouse game has gone on long enough,'' wrote plaintiffs attorney Adam Schachter in his response brief.  Download 2013.08.20 Coalition Plaintiffs' Response to Non-Parties' Motions for Protective Order with Exs. A-F

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August 08, 2013

Dream Defenders to launch massive voter registration drive

The Dream Defenders, who are marking Day 24 of their Capitol sit-in outside Gov. Rick Scott's office, announced they are launching a massive drive to register 61,550 voters by 2014 -- the margin Scott won by in the 2010 election. 

"We intend to register the people that are forgotten - the black, the brown, the indigent, the poor, the LGBT community and we will meet them where they are, in the classrooms, in the mall, at the club, on the corner, at the bus stop" said the Dream Defenders Executive Director Philip Agnew at a press conference Thursday.

He said the effort, which would enlist students on Florida campuses, would be geared toward issues, not candidates. "At the end of the day, we are not blue or red."

There's a need to "build power," Agnew said, so that "when the time comes again for us to move on issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, like racial profiling, like Stand Your Ground, we don't have to sit on the floor again."

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July 16, 2013

All aboard the SS Crisafulli

Even by Tallahassee’s standards, Steve Crisafulli’s idea for an upcoming fundraiser for House Republicans is pretty showy.

It’s a three-day trip to the Bahamas aboard the Disney Cruise Line’s “Disney Dream” where guests will stay in deluxe oceanview stateroom with Verandah (cabins that usually fetch about $3,000).  

Set to sail from Port Canaveral -- located in Crisafulli’s House district -- the Disney Dream and its 1,458 crew members and 4,000 passengers will anchor in ports of call Nassau and Castaway Cay, Disney’s “private island paradise.”

Floating atop international waters, lawmakers will soak in the contributions while luxuriating on the 14-passenger deck ship and its many bars (“Evolution Night Club, anyone?”). Guests will get a $200 onboard credit and all meals included.

When asked about the rumors of the upcoming fundraiser on Tuesday, Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, confirmed the fundraiser is set for an Aug. 1 launch.

All that guests have to provide so they can attend is a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida.

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July 05, 2013

Legislative leaders spread the love this session, giving select staff pay raises

When Florida legislators this year broke the freeze on employee pay and offered state workers salary increases for the first time in seven years, legislative leaders made sure to give some of their own employees pay raises, too.

Using criteria based on performance and promotions, the increases amounted to about three to five percent for most workers but as much as 20 percent for others.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz took different approaches. Gaetz provided bonuses and salary increases to 35 staff members, beginning last month. Weatherford gave raises to 71 full-time employees, starting this month.  Download Senate - Promotions Salary Increases - 2013 Session

Weatherford attempted to keep the House annual budget the same by reorganizing, and using retirements and departures of some staff members, said Ryan Duffy, spokesman for Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. The net cost of the raises to taxpayers was about $27,000, he said.  Download House Salary Review Summer 2013 Press Request (1)

The Senate bonuses, by contrast, cost taxpayers an additional $105,848, said Katie Betta, Senate spokeswoman. More here. 

June 24, 2013

Gov. Scott signs 'landmark' foster care legislation

Gov. Rick Scott signed the Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act Monday -- for the second time.

Scott initially signed HB 1036, which gives kids the option of staying in foster care until age 21, on June 14th, but Monday's ceremonial signing gave supporters a chance to celebrate a bill advocates call "landmark legislation." 

"This is the most important bill the governor will have signed all year. It immediately impacts the lives of thousands of children and I don't see a bill that's more important than that," said Senate sponsor Detert, who attended the signing at Valencia College in Orlando with House sponsor, Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins, Florida's Advocate for Foster and Adoption Tanya Wilkins, children's advocates and current and foster care youths from all over Florida.

Along with giving young adults the option of staying in foster care, the new law requires a transition plan be made for those who are leaving the child welfare system. 

“This new law will ensure kids entrusted in our care have the best start possible into adulthood and provide them the opportunity to obtain the life skills necessary so they may live the American Dream,” Scott said.

About 70 percent of teens in foster care have not graduated high school or received their GED by the time they "age out" of the system.

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June 15, 2013

FL House Dem leader Rouson bashed by fellow Dems as 'a divider.'

The News Service of Florida:

HOLLYWOOD, Fla., June 15, 2013.......On a day when the Florida Democratic Party gathered to showcase its united drive to unseat Gov. Rick Scott, House Democrats held a caucus meeting that instead highlighted the concerns some members have with the leadership style of Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

Rouson, who was chosen to lead House Democrats after the 2014 elections following a contentious contest with Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, is currently trying to increase the party's size in the House. But his style of doing so came under withering criticism Saturday from two members who said they were unhappy with Rouson.

It's not clear if the discontent goes beyond those two members, or how far it does go.

Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, questioned whether Rouson had managed to gain the full support of the Florida Education Association and the Florida Justice Association, two key constituencies in the party's organizing and fundraising efforts, as well as some other party leaders.

"Everything that I have heard from reliable sources is that you've alienated all of those folks," Clelland said. "And I want a leader in this caucus who's going to be a unifier, not a divider."

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June 10, 2013

Fasano threatens emergency meeting of board over condo insurance charges

Rep. Mike Fasano is threatening legislative action if the director of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund doesn't back down from a ruling that Fasano says could cost condomium owners throughout the state thousands of dollars in rate hikes.

Fasano is challenging an interpretation of a law by Jack Nicholson, executive director of the CAT fund, and on Monday asked Nicholson to bring the issue before the governor and Cabinet or he will ask legislative leaders to let him call a special meeting of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, which Fasano chairs.

Nicholson has said that he believes the CAT fund must disqualify from its coverage any condominium buildings in which units are being rented for more than six months of the year. The state-run reinsurer offers lower cost coverage for residential property than is often available on the free market but, Nicholson believes, state law doesn't consider rental units that are rented for more than six months of the year as residential coverage. 

Fasano, R-New Port Richey, disagreed. In a back and forth last week, Fasano challenged Nicholson and Nicholson responded on Friday. Unsatisfied with the answer, Fasano sent another letter Monday threatening more extreme action. Download Fasano June 10

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June 07, 2013

Gov and GOP leaders use hurricane season start to blast DC over sequester cuts

As the first tropical storm of the season bore down on Florida Thursday, Republican state officials seized the moment to blast Washington and warn that the required budget cuts to federal programs could impede the state’s ability to respond to hurricanes or floods.

Gov. Rick Scott had just mentioned Tropical Storm Andrea at his briefing with reporters Thursday morning when he launched into a critique of the federal budget storm that is causing the Florida National Guard to order 993 of its full-time staff to go to a four-day work week beginning July 1.

Known as sequestration, the across-the-board cuts were agreed to between President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress in 2011 to resolve the debt ceiling standoff. Now, Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford have written to Congress and the Department of Defense asking them to exempt National Guard staff from the mandatory cuts because of Florida’s hurricane season.

“It doesn’t make any sense why they’re doing it this way,’’ Scott said, adding that the defense department could have excluded the National Guard from the budget cuts. “I’m very concerned about our preparedness. … It will take more days to be up to speed.” More here. 


June 05, 2013

Jones defends firing of trooper who tried to give legislators a break

Florida highway safety chief Julie Jones says state troopers are encouraged to use "discretion" when they make traffic stops, but they are not allowed to issue tickets for non-existent violations.

Jones, who reports to Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, spoke for the first time Tuesday in the case of Charles Swindle, a six-year Florida Highway Patrol veteran who was fired after he stopped two state legislators for speeding on I-10 in Madison last fall. In both cases, FHP superiors said Swindle violated agency rules by issuing citations to the lawmakers for violations that didn't exist: Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, was cited for having no proof of insurance, and Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, was cited for no proof of insurance and not having his registration.

Swindle said he was "cutting a break" to both politicians. McBurney complained to FHP Col. David Brierton, who ordered an investigation and fired Swindle, who appealed the dismissal to the Public Employees Relations Commission. Swindle's lawyer, Sidney Matthew, claims there is a "long-standing unwritten policy" at the FHP for troopers to go easy on speeding politicians.

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June 04, 2013

‘Cluster, but somehow we declare victory.’ Top gov’t officials were not sure about Scott’s tax cut after questionable vote

After a constitutionally questionable vote on Gov. Rick Scott’s top legislative priority, a tax break for manufacturers, House Speaker Will Weatherford quickly declared the bill passed, despite its failing to reach an 80-vote supermajority previously considered necessary. 

“We think it is extremely constitutional,” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said after the contentious May 1 vote, stating that he had discussed the issue with legislative legal staff. He followed up with a statement asking “Who would sue to stop a tax cut?” 

But behind the scenes, top government staffers over in the executive branch were not so sure, with one calling the whole scene a “cluster” and another saying that there “some uncertainty as to whether HB 7007 passed” that night. (Definition of slang term "cluster" here, for the over-50 crowd.)

Emails obtained by the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau show top officials from Gov. Rick Scott’s office and the Department of Revenue were not sure whether the House had run afoul of the Constitution or not. 

“I guess it passed in 7005. Did it get 2/3 to bypass the mandate issue?”  Holger Ciupalo, a chief analyst for Scott, wrote to Christian Weiss, chief economist with the Department of Revenue,  hours after the 68-48 House vote on the manufacturing tax cut. 

Weiss replied: “(HB) 7007: yes. 2/3 no. Go to sayfie to read all the discussions. Cluster, but somehow we declare victory…” 

Weiss and Scott’s legislative liaison Renee Fargason also had an email exchange after the vote: 

Fargason: “The following 43 bills passed the Legislature today, May 1… ***At this time there is some uncertainty as to whether HB 7007 passed.” 

Weiss replied: “7007 passed but may later be challenged on constitutional ground lacking a mandates (sic) 2/3rd majority.” 

Fargason replied: "Ok thanks! Wasn't sure if they could change the verdict since they didn't have 2/3."

Weiss then followed up with: "They can still recall it but doubt they will given the toxic atmosphere in the H(ouse)."

In other emails obtained by the Herald/Times, government officials pass along copies of the Florida Constitution, highlighting sections of the that deal with the 2/3rds mandate. 

Scott signed HB 7007 into law last month. So far, there does not appear to be a lawsuit against the tax cut, which goes into effect next year. The tax break could cost local governments millions of dollars during its three year run.  Democrats, who all voted against HB 7007 and had been protesting against House leadership on the day of the vote, immediately threatened lawsuits.

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