November 07, 2013

Former state Rep. Carl Ogden dies

Carl OgdenFormer state Rep. Carl Ogden, who represented Jacksonville in the House for 20 years, died Tuesday in Tallahassee. He was 84.

Ogden was dean of the House when he left the Legislature in 1988 and worked for former Gov. Lawton Chiles as director of the State Employees Insurance Division for three years. Ogden and his wife, Gage, moved to a 226-acre farm near Monticello, just east of Tallahassee, where they raised horses. Ogden also spent his years in semi-retirement lobbying for the PGA Tour, Ladies Professional Golf Association and Bert Rodgers Schools of Real Estate.

Ogden attempted a return to the legislature in 2000, when he unsuccessfully ran for the sprawling rural North Florida district then held by Rep. Janegale Boyd, who was running for the Senate. He lost in the primary.

A memorial service is set for Tuesday, Nov. 12, from 5-7 p.m. at Culley’s Memorial Funeral Home in Tallahassee. 

Photo: Florida Memory Project

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.

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October 29, 2013

U.S. Senate panel takes on Stand Your Ground controversy

Statements made during a U.S. Senate hearing that Stand Your Ground laws actually benefit African Americans are “ludicrous,” Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee said after attending Tuesday’s panel in Washington, D.C.

Williams, chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, is aiming to repeal the law in Florida and will be pushing the effort during a House hearing Nov. 7th.

“The argument that a number of crimes are committed in minority communities and African Americans should appreciate that Stand Your Ground has allowed them to get off or not be prosecuted for committing murder is embarrassing,” said Williams, referring to comments made by the law's supporters during the packed U.S. Senate hearing.

Legislators, criminal justice experts, advocates and the mothers of two sons slain in the name of self-defense gave widely different interpretations of the laws, their racial ramifications and the need for changes during the panel.

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October 01, 2013

State Rep. Darryl Rouson hit with $155,000 tax lien

State Rep. Darryl Rouson and his wife failed to pay more than $155,000 in federal income taxes from 2008 through 2010, according to a lien filed by the Internal Revenue Service.

In one of those years, Rouson, a St. Petersburg attorney, made $565,000 working for the powerhouse law firm of Morgan & Morgan.

The IRS lien is the latest setback for Rouson, who recently came under fire from fellow House Democrats for creating a party-related fundraising committee only he could control. His colleagues ousted him as incoming Democratic leader on Sept. 23, the day before the IRS filed its lien in Pinellas County circuit court.

“I don’t take this lightly,’’ Rouson said Tuesday. “I am working with my CPA and my tax attorney, and I’m very optimistic this will all get resolved.

“It’s been a tough summer,’’ he added. 

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Legislators hear plea to fix troubled child welfare agency

Speaker after speaker told Miami-Dade’s legislative delegation Monday that fixing Florida’s broken child welfare system requires more resources and better training for those on the frontlines. They asked lawmakers to do something.

In a two-hour meeting headed by Rep. Jose F. Diaz, vice chairman of the delegation, legislators were told more money is needed to create a stronger safety net for children facing risks — even if it means tapping the state’s budget surplus.

“I would like to put this back on you — this is about funding,’’ said Walter Lambert, the chief doctor of Miami’s Child Protection Team, who made a similar plea at a meeting in Broward last month.

The Department of Children & Families has had at least 20 children die while on its radar since the spring — a number that has placed the agency under intense public scrutiny. More here.


September 25, 2013

House committee: overhaul of child welfare system will be focus

Florida’s child welfare system needs an overhaul, and repairing the cracks that allowed more than 20 children to die this summer will be the focus of legislation next spring, the head of the oversight committee of the Florida House of Representatives said Tuesday.

”I’m looking for concrete ideas, solutions,’’ Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, told the House Healthy Families Subcommittee at the conclusion of what will be the first of several hearings on the issue. “Let’s take this on as a major challenge this year.”

Since mid-April, at least 20 children known to the Department of Children & Families have died, mostly from abuse or neglect, some of them in particularly brutal ways, a review of state files by the Miami Herald found.

After four children died over a stretch of six weeks, DCF Secretary David Wilkins resigned and was replaced by interim secretary Esther Jacobo.

Harrell said the goal is to find ways to “change the culture” of the child welfare system as well as examine the need for additional funding and eliminate the counterproductive laws that “create bottlenecks.”

Harrell’s counterpart in the Senate, state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat, who conducted a legislative hearing on the child deaths in Broward County in August, is also expected to pursue legislation during the regular session that begins in March.

Jacobo, who had previously been DCF’s regional director in Miami-Dade County, told the House committee Tuesday that she has embarked on a sweeping change in the way the agency handles abuse cases. The goal is to shift from an incident-driven review of reported threats to children to one that provides a comprehensive assessment of a family’s needs and gets them immediate assistance.

In the department’s review of the recent child deaths, she said they have found a recurring theme: “There are chronic issues that we’re not addressing that may leave a bad result later on.” Story here. 

September 23, 2013

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


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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