April 07, 2014

Today in Tallahassee: Five Things to Know

Monday marks the start of the sixth week of the nine-week Florida legislative session. Here are five things to watch:

* Gov. Rick Scott has suspended the commissions of dozens of notaries public in Florida over the past year for infractions such as failing to witness a notarized signature. Three notaries are challenging Scott's actions and their cases will be considered by the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee, chaired by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

* Attorney General Pam Bondi's office would create a new Sexual Predator and Sexual Offender Absconder Strike Force under legislation to be considered by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The bill (SB 1416) is by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

* A fledgling professional soccer franchise in Orlando could qualify for stadium funding under a bill (SB 618) to be debated in the Senate Commerce & Tourism Committee. The bill sponsor is Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

* Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, is the featured speaker at a 9 a.m. rally to promote greater awareness of Florida's natural springs, to be held in the Capitol courtyard. April is Springs Awareness Month and Dean chairs the Senate committee that oversees environmental issues.

* Monday marks the start of Children's Week in the state Capitol, when numerous exhibits and displays are devoted to the young people who are Florida's future.

(Steve Bousquet, Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau)

April 06, 2014

Session at midpoint: Election year squelches controversy, aids harmony and rewards contributors

The Florida Legislature has passed the halfway point of its 60-day session and the fruits of its labor can be summed up in two words: election year.

With Gov. Rick Scott struggling in the polls as he seeks a second term in November, the Republican-led legislature has worked to send him bills to bolster his image while avoiding issues that could complicate the governor’s political prospects.

In one month, lawmakers swiftly passed a repeal of the 2009 auto tag fee that will save most drivers $25 a year and touted it as the largest general revenue tax reduction in a decade. They enacted tuition credits for returning military in an effort to make the state friendly for veterans. They strengthened penalties for perpetrators of sex crimes in response to newspaper reports on repeat sex offenders.

And, in one of many bills pushed by the National Rifle Association, they sent the governor a measure Thursday to allow people to fire warning shots in self-defense.

Before the session began, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his goal was to help Scott “put points on the board” by passing popular legislation.

This week, Weatherford declared that the goal is “not to worry about elections this session. We’re here to do what we think is right.” Story here.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/05/4041743/at-session-midpoint-legislature.html#storylink=cpy

Jeb Bush on GOP: 'We've lost our way,' need to 'listen and learn' from campaigns

From the New York Times:

With eyes increasingly on him, Jeb Bush signaled on Sunday the kind of campaign he would mount if he ran for president: one arguing against ideological purity tests while challenging party orthodoxy on issues like immigration and education.

Even as he sharply criticized President Obama for his handling of foreign affairs and health care, Mr. Bush made clear that he would run against the style of politics that has characterized recent Republican nominating contests. He said he would decide by the end of the year, in part on whether he thought that with a “hopeful” message, he could avoid “the vortex of a mud fight.”

“We need to elect candidates who have a vision that is bigger and broader, and candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making points,” Mr. Bush told an audience at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum here. “Campaigns ought to be about listening and learning and getting better. I do think we’ve lost our way.”

He added, “I’m not being critical of my party, but campaigns themselves are reflective of this new America.”

Mr. Bush, the former two-term governor of Florida and the son and brother of former presidents, returned to the bosom of the family’s extensive political network to discuss his future and the country’s. His town-hall-style conversation capped a three-day reunion celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first Bush presidency, ensuring that much of the talk would center on whether there would be a third. Story here.

April 04, 2014

Attorney accuses Bondi of violating public records law

A Tallahassee attorney engaged in a bitter property fight with the state is accusing Attorney General Pam Bondi of destroying emails, failing to retain text messages and violating the state’s public records laws.

Bondi, the chief custodian of the state’s Sunshine law, has acknowledged some documents were inadvertently missing from the records request of Stephen R. Andrews, but her office vigorously rejects his claims.

“These allegations are without merit,’’ said Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray.

In court documents filed this week in Leon County Circuit Court, Andrews portrays a department that allows employees to manually delete emails before they are archived, relies on an outdated email archival system and allows metadata to routinely be destroyed.

He claims that in at least 19 instances, emails were destroyed and the attorney general's office failed to properly retain text messages after he filed a request for a document hold.

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David Beckham's reps take soccer stadium campaign to civic groups

@PatriciaMazzei

David Beckham’s representatives continue to try to win hearts and minds for their proposed Major League Soccer stadium at PortMiami by reaching out to civic groups.

It’s a campaign with a much lower profile than the public unveiling of Beckham’s plans last week, which drew a throng of reporters and the retired English footballer himself to talk up a potential 25,000-seat, open-air stadium with views of the downtown skyline.

On Friday, John Alschuler, the New York-based real-estate advisor for the Miami Beckham United group, stood alone before some 50 people at a luncheon organized by a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce committee.

To turn a professional Miami soccer franchise into an international brand, “we need to do it in an environment that captures people’s imagination,” Alschuler said — preferably by the water.

Negotiations with Miami-Dade County over the port site are ongoing and face significant hurdles, including opposition from Royal Caribbean Cruises, whose campus is on part of the county-owned property. Key county commissioners have also said they are skeptical and fear a stadium would hinder the port’s growth and cause traffic headaches.

Also against the site is Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who said he worries fans trying to reach the stadium using the soon-to-be-inaugurated Port Tunnel would cause traffic backups for Miami Beach residents on the MacArthur Causeway.

“I love soccer and I’m so excited about it coming to Miami-Dade County,” he said. “That’s just an inappropriate location.”

More here.

FOX4 explores congressional candidate Curt Clawson's ties to pedophile

@MarcACaputo

Count this in the category of headlines that make congressional campaigns cringe: "Clawson and business ties to Pedophile?"

Maybe FOX4 was trying to be nice by tacking a question mark at the end, but it's pretty clear from the station's reporting that Curt Clawson has some newsworthy link with a sex predator named Glen Borst, who last lived in a Utah home owned by the candidate. 

The Clawson campaign told FOX4 that Clawson had no longstanding ties to Borst, convicted of repeatedly raping and sodomizing a pre-teen girl in 2004. Two years later, Clawson bought the home in question and, according to a legal document obtained by FOX4, Clawson gave Borst power of attorney, perhaps in the home purchase.

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Latvala rains on Weatherford's pension reform parade

Pension reform showed its first visible signs of life in the House on Friday, as a compromise bill that would steer new hires away from the state’s guaranteed benefit system cleared its first committee, State Affairs, by a 11-6 vote.

While this should have been good news for Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who has made overhauling the state’s retirement system one of his top priorities, his prospects for passing the bill actually dimmed.

One reason why is that Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who announced his support for the compromise last week, backed off and downgraded its chances for success.

“It’s still in a state of flux,” Latvala said Friday. “Even if I support it, I’m not sure it has the 21 votes it needs. It’s going to be an uphill battle.”

That’s far different than what Latvala said last week, when he said he would support a bill that Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, sponsored last year that would encourage, but not require, new employees to enroll in private investment plans rather than the state’s $135 billion pension system.

“It would not surprise me if I become a co-sponsor,” Latvala said last week.

Now?

“I’m not 100 percent certain I’m supporting the Simpson bill,” Latvala said.

Continue reading "Latvala rains on Weatherford's pension reform parade" »

Broward Teachers Union on mend after bruising election

@MrMikeVasquez

After a bruising internal election, the Broward Teachers Union is moving forward -– with incumbent President Sharon Glickman successfully holding on to her post.

Glickman took about 54 percent of the vote in the BTU’s recent election, surviving a heated race against two challengers. The testy campaign included accusations of election committee improprieties, and candidates were sometimes put on the defensive over their past financial troubles.

But the union is now doing its best to heal, Glickman said, with an upcoming retreat planned for its executive board.

“It’s gonna take some time to mend fences,” Glickman said. “But the most important thing is that we work together for our members.”

The union has plenty of work to do:  endorsing candidates in the upcoming School Board election; negotiating raises for some employees, such as technical support personnel; and fighting Broward’s plan to privatize its facilities department.

Next Saturday will provide a feel-good moment, when the union gives away 45,000 books for students at high-poverty schools.

“Can you imagine 45,000 books?” Glickman said “They came in by the truckload.” 

--MICHAEL VASQUEZ

FAMU leaders say Thrasher mischaracterized their position on FSU split

@tbtia

The Senate agreed to spend $13 million in state funding to help Florida State University begin creating its own engineering school separate from Florida A&M University largely based on the testimony of Sen. John Thrasher. The St. Augustine Republican is an FSU alum and is rumored to have an interest in becoming the university's next president. But he also one of the lions of the Legislature and his opinion carries lots of sway in Tallahassee.

But was Thrasher wrong when he said FAMU's new President Elmira Mangum had agreed to begin working with FSU's interim President Garnett Stokes to map out a plan for splitting the two schools' joint College of Engineering? A spokeswoman for Mangum says, "Yes."

"There was no such agreement," said Alonda Thomas, FAMU's communications director, in an email to the Times/Herald. "Dr. Mangum and Dr. Stokes agreed that they need to review the current amendment to understand its impact on FAMU if it should be approved. They agreed that the process is not collegial and that it is not the process in which collaboration is conducted."

Thomas said there was no agreement to begin drafting a "memorandum of understanding" about how the split would occur. Confronted with the conflicting information after the Senate adjourned Thursday night, Thrasher said his comments were based on what Stokes told him after she met with Mangum Thursday morning.

But there are more discrepancies. Larry Robinson, whose tenure as FAMU's interim president ended when Mangum took office Tuesday, said Thrasher also mischaracterized conversations he had with former FSU President Eric Barron. Barron's last day was Wednesday; he becomes president of Pennsylvania State University next month.

Robinson said he and Barron had informal conversations about the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, but he never agreed that a split was the right course of action. Thrasher said during Thursday's debate that the two presidents had spoken about the plan and gave the impression they were on board.

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Uber Bill takes new shape

A bill moving through the Florida Legislature was refashioned Friday to take aim at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

The original proposal (HB 1389) sought to let technology-based transportation companies circumvent local municipalities and win approval directly from the state. It was nicknamed the Uber Bill, after the California-based digital booking service that has been rebuffed by government agencies in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties.

On Friday, Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, gutted the bill, and instead proposed new rules for the state's 10 special transportation districts.

He was targeting one special district in particular: the Hillsborough PTC.

In 2012, the PTC effectively blocked Uber from operating during the Republican National Convention by enforcing existing rules about minimum fares and wait times.

“They [Uber] were eventually forced out because the minimum $50 fare makes the business model completely not viable,” Grant said.

Under Grant's revised proposal, special districts could not impose a minimum wait time or fare on app-based limousine services. Special districts would also be prohibited from restricting the number of available limousine permits.

"The effect of this bill today is that it would only take regulatory authority in these three small areas from one authority that is currently exercising it, and it would prevent the others doing it in the future," Grant said.

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