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November 17, 2015

Florida Senate takes step toward removing statue of Confederate general


Edmund Kirby Smith’s days in the U.S. Capitol Building appear to be numbered.

A Florida Senate committee on Tuesday took another step in removing the statue of Smith, who is depicted in one of two statues representing Florida in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Smith’s claim to fame is having been born in St. Augustine and was one of the last major commanding officers in the Confederate Army to surrender during the Civil War. Smith, a Lieutenant General fighting in Texas, did not surrender until June 2, 1865 in Galveston – nearly two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army in Virginia.

But as has been the case for weeks, sponsors of the legislation insisted their legislation is not a reaction to Smith being a Confederate soldier, but because Florida needs someone new and more representative of the state to be on display at the U.S. Capitol Building.

“The reality of it is, is that Kirby Smith had a very minimal impact on Florida,” state Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said.

Legg said as a high school history teacher, he would take students to the U.S. Capitol Building on trips and always thought Florida could have a better statue on display to demonstrate the state’s history.

“There’s so many people who had such an impact on Florida in the last 100 years,” Legg said.

Continue reading "Florida Senate takes step toward removing statue of Confederate general" »

AP: Jeb Bush open to letting properly vetted Syrian Muslims into U.S.

From the Associated Press:

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is making it clearer that his call for the U.S. refugee program to give preference to Christians fleeing Syria does not exclude Muslims.

His campaign says Bush supports accepting women and children regardless of their religion and does not exclude Syrian Muslims broadly, as long as the refugees can be effectively vetted.

President Barack Obama has rebuked what he called a "shameful" religious test in the refugee policies of some Republican candidates. Both Bush and Ted Cruz have said preference should be given to Syrian Christians.

Bush spokesman Tim Miller said Tuesday that Bush believes the refugee policy should favor women and children as well as persecuted Christian minorities, but no one should be allowed in when there is not enough information about them.

Miller said Bush does not believe the U.S. should eliminate support for refugees. He said Bush believes refugees are a "noble tradition in our country for decades," but that they should not be accepted "if there's any kind of concern" about their backgrounds or intention.

In an earlier address to business leaders during a South Carolina campaign swing, Bush called the struggle against the Islamic State group "the war of our time."

Miami-Dade leaders join hands in prayer with France's Miami consul general

French prayer


On Tuesday, Miami-Dade's county commissioners and mayor joined hands with the head of France's Miami consulate and prayed. 

Commission Chairman Jean Monestime, the first Haitian-American to hold the post, asked the entire chambers to join hands for the event, sparking an unusually intimate version of a pre-meeting prayer typically accompanied only with bowed heads.

Monestime and his fellow commissioners joined Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Philippe Létrilliart, France's Miami consul general, in linked hands as local pastor Joanem Floreal conducted the prayer. 

Following the prayer, "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, played on the chamber speakers before the meeting began. 

Photo caption: 

From left to right: Miami-Dade commissioners Daniella Levine Cava, Rebeca Sosa, Dennis Moss, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Consul General Philippe Létrilliart, Chairman Jean Monestime, and commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Barbara Jordan.  

Let Syrian refugees into U.S. only with strict vetting, Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy say

via @learyreports

The two leading Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate remain open to the U.S. accepting Syrian refugees but only with extensive vetting.

Rep. Alan Grayson "supports President Obama’s policy on accepting immigrants from Syria," spokesman Ken Scudder told the Tampa Bay Times. "Like the President, the Congressman feels that these refugees should be thoroughly vetted before being admitted into the U.S."

Rep. Patrick Murphy released a statement. "Our number one priority is always to keep the American people safe. We need incredibly tough safety and security requirements on any refugees entering our country in order to protect our nation. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am working closely with my colleagues and national security officials to make sure we prioritize the safety of all American citizens while still allowing America to be a beacon of freedom around the world."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Effort to repeal Florida's cohabitation ban moves in Florida Senate


A proposal to scrap Florida's 147-year-old ban on unwed men and women living together got unanimous approval during its first committee stop in the state Senate for the 2016 session.

Senate Bill 498 -- proposed by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood -- gets rid of the second-degree misdemeanor crime, which Sobel says 4.4 million Floridians are committing. The law is rarely enforced.

Sobel's bill now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

A House version of the repeal effort also got initial favor earlier this fall. That bill is sponsored by Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee.

Unlike the House hearing in September, Tuesday's Senate committee hearing prompted no debate.

Only Florida, Michigan and Mississippi still have laws making cohabitation illegal. Eight other states that once had similar laws have repealed them.

Stiffer penalties for 'terroristic threats' approved by Florida House panel


People who make "terroristic threats" would face harsher penalties under a proposal that earned unanimous approval from the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday.

The plan from Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, would make it a third-degree felony for someone to threaten or cause terror and/or prompt the evacuation of a building, public place or public transportation facility.

A conviction would also result in the person having to pay the cost of the evacuation and any damages stemming from it.

While bomb threats are a felony, current law allows terroristic threats -- such as a threat of a school shooting -- to be prosecuted only as a misdemeanor under criminal mischief or disturbing-the-peace laws, Smith said.

"This bill recognizes the seriousness of these threats and provides appropriate criminal penalties for them - especially those that target our teachers, judges, law enforcement and others," Smith said.

The proposal is also supported by the Florida Police Benevolent Association and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

House Bill 257 now goes to the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

The Senate companion, sponsored by Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, has been referred to three committees, but no hearings have been scheduled yet.

The Hill: Ethics expert on Alan Grayson's hedge funds: 'I’ve never seen anything like this'

From The Hill, which published a story Tuesday about criticism of U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, and his controversial hedge funds:

A conservative group called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust and a supporter of Grayson’s primary opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), have each lodged complaints with the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). They claim that Grayson has violated ethics rules by running the investment vehicle, which formerly bore his name.

The wealthy congressman maintains his dealings are above board, and there has been no official finding to the contrary. However, his managerial role with the funds, which have grown in value since Grayson was reelected to Congress three years ago, is seen as uncommon for a sitting lawmaker, experts say.

“He’s wading into uncharted waters, in terms of lack of precedent on this kind of thing,” said Kenneth Gross, the head of the political law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and veteran congressional ethics expert. 

“I’ve never seen anything like this before with a member of Congress,” Gross added. “I’m not saying it’s never happened, but I’ve never heard of it.”

More here.

Pro-Ted Cruz super PAC jabs Marco Rubio over 'amnesty'

via @learyreports

A super PAC supporting Ted Cruz has a new ad highlighting Marco Rubio's role in the Gang of 8 immigration bill. It's the second ad from Courageous Conservatives PAC and comes as Rubio and Cruz have turned fire on each other. Last night, Rubio knocked Cruz for voting to put controls on the NSA data collection programs.

Ad script:

When Marco Rubio teamed up with John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Lindsey Graham and Bob Menendez to push his Gang of Eight Amnesty scheme, he said he wanted to secure the border. But then Rubio voted against every border security amendment Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions proposed. Every one! It was part of the deal Rubio made with Obama -- no amendments, even on border security. Ted Cruz was only in the Senate a few weeks, but it was his leadership that stopped the Obama-Rubio Gang of Eight amnesty bill. Ted Cruz: Secure the border. No welfare for illegal aliens. No path to citizenship. Enforce, improve and strengthen current laws. Marco Rubio betrayed our trust, failed us and he’s done nothing since coming to Washington but push for amnesty. Ted Cruz for President. Now. Before it’s too late.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Democrats successfully maneuver to kill 'Stand Your Ground' changes in Florida House



A plan to strengthen Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law during the 2016 legislative session died an early death in the state House on Tuesday, after a subcommittee rejected the legislation on a deadlocked vote.

House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined with the panel’s four Democrats to oppose a bill by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, that would have given defendants who claim self-defense more protection from prosecution.

House Bill 169 would have required prosecutors to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- during a procedural hearing before trial -- why a defendant's self-defense claim isn't valid.

In contrast, Florida courts, culminating in a Florida Supreme Court ruling in July, had previously ruled that the defendant had the burden of proving why they shouldn't be prosecuted because they acted in self-defense.

Trujillo, a former assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade County, said he supports the way "Stand Your Ground" operates now, and the burden should remain on the defendant who claims self-defense.

"If you’re alleging something, you have to prove it," Trujillo said.

Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, was absent for the vote, resulting in the 6-6 tie.

The surprise result was preceded by two late-filed amendments from Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, which he said he proposed as "an insurance policy" with the ultimate intent to kill the bill in committee. Both amendments passed by a 6-5 vote; Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, was absent for those, along with Latvala.

Continue reading "Democrats successfully maneuver to kill 'Stand Your Ground' changes in Florida House" »

Panel OKs expanding medical marijuana plan to 20 growers


Patients who have been given a year to live could soon be allowed to use marijuana to ease their pain.

A Florida House panel on Tuesday okayed legislation that would expand an existing, small medical marijuana program and a law allowing terminal patients to try experimental drugs. Now, with two doctors’ approval, a patient can buy marijuana from a licensed grower in the state.

“Cannabis should be the first option for patients, rather than the last resort,” said Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, speaking on behalf of Cathy Jordan, a Parrish resident who has suffered from ALS for 29 years. “No one should have to go through what I did to get their medication.”

Jordan, the president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, has a letter from the state attorney’s office in Manatee County that allows her to grow marijuana that has been prescribed to her.

But before okaying the bill (HB 307) by a 9-4 vote, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee tacked on new language that would quadruple the number of licensed marijuana growers in the state from five to 20.

The Florida Department of Health is expected to announce five licensed growers for cannabis that is low in high-inducing THC in the coming weeks. Encouraged by a group of black farmers that met with the Florida Legislative Black Caucus early this month, Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, pushed the amendment, which eliminates strict requirements for potential growers.

Howard Gunn, Jr., president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, has said that the five-nursery limit and requirement that nurseries be in business for at least 30 years before being licensed by the Department of Health has “systematically excluded the black farmer.”

“I believe if we don’t remove these barriers to entry, we are creating a monopoly for five dispensing organizations,” Bracy said Tuesday. “I believe it creates a competitive disadvantage, and I believe it negates free-market principles.”

Lawmakers passed the amendment after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, gave a thumbs-up, apparently encouraging a group of committee members to vote yes.

Still, despite bipartisan support, some members already started to raise questions about the larger number of nurseries that would be allowed to grow marijuana if the bill passes.

“We’ve got a train wreck here,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who voted against the bill. “We’ve got confusion. Here’s an amendment that turned it upside down at the last minute.”

A similar proposal will be considered this afternoon in the Senate Health Policy committee.