September 23, 2013

"Clarity?" Incoming FL House Dem leader Darryl Rouson bends truth about secret committee

@MarcACaputo

Darryl Rouson, the incoming House Democratic leader who's under fire for founding a political committee behind the back of the state party, inaccurately portrayed his motivations for the secretive move before his colleagues tonight decide whether to keep him on the job.

Rouson said he founded the so-called "Affiliated Party Committee" for two reasons: “The Democrats had a poor fundraising quarter, they had just rolled out a CFO candidate that they didn’t vet.”

Point number one is tough to dispute. But his second issue about the unvetted CFO candidate, Allie Braswell, doesn't pass the straight-face test.

Here's why: time.

The embarrassing news about Braswell dropped on Aug. 16.

But Rouson founded his committee at least three days before, on Aug. 13 at 2 p.m. according to the date stamp from the Division of Elections. Now, it is true that the letter about the committee is dated afterward, but the official record is the date stamp. The document is here: Download Rouson

And beyond the tight time frame of the date-stamp evidence there's this simple fact: establishing something so big as an APC (there can only be four) is not something you do lightly. You don't just decide to do it on a whim. It takes time and legal advice to draft the paperwork and decide to go forward. It's not like this committee was turned in a day or two.

Throughout it all, Rouson was silent.

And now he's saying that, essentially, he predicted the CFO disaster. So he did this proactively.

Rouson has been a controversial figure for some time in the caucus. Smart as a whip, he also has a reputation of being too smart by half. Some say he's not trustworthy. It's one reason he won the post only after a tie vote. It's a reason some fellow Democrats called him a "divider." It's a reason some wondered if he had a trick up his sleave, a secret deal, when he voted against the Democratic-funding trial lawyers and even pushed a fellow member's vote button to do it (Rouson later lost his job at the Morgan & Morgan firm).

In a touch of irony, Rouson this evening said “I should have provided more clarity.” But he then proceded to give this story that conflicts with the time line. A big lie? Not really. A mistake? Maybe. But when significant numbers of your own caucus question your veracity, you can't mess up like this.

Indeed, Rouson noted that his Democratic critics have “attacked my integrity and honor.”

Hmm. Perhaps they need more "clarity."

September 18, 2013

Ethics commission dismisses charges against four local legislators

The Florida Ethics Commission has dismissed a series of ethics complaints against two local senators and two state representatives for failing to include financial information on their annual financial disclosure forms.

Meeting in a closed-door meeting last week, the commission dismissed a complaint against Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, for failing to include a $278,000 home she owns in The Villages on financial disclosure forms she filed between 2006 and 2011. The commission had dismissed a previous complaint that she failed to properly report her ownership of a Tallahassee condo as well.

The commission also dropped claims that Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, filed an incomplete financial disclosure form in 2011, concluding that “the public interest would not be served by further proceedings because the addresses of properties were readily discoverable through public sources.”

The commission found probable cause that while Rep. Jose Raul Oliva, R-Miami, failed to properly identify an asset on his 2011 disclosure form, it will take no action.

And the commission voted to close its file and dismiss a complaint filed against Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, because the complainant “denied filing the complaint, and was unresponsive to a written request for clarification.” The commission said the allegations contained in the complaint are the same as matters already pending final action by the board.

In December, the Ethics Commission found probable cause that Fresen failed to properly disclose his annual net worth, assets, and liabilities from 2008 to 2011 after a lender filed a foreclosure suit against him. Fresen is fighting the ethics charges, calling the allegation a “baseless” political attack by a political opponent.

Here's the link to the commission's release. 

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.